United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE, NOTICE, AND ORDER
RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Francisco Ayala (“Ayala”) filed this action under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the
denial by the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) of his
application for disability insurance benefits under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act (“SSA”). ECF No. 1.
After considering the pleadings, briefs, and the
administrative record, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS that United States District Judge
Reed O'Connor REVERSE the
Commissioner's decision and REMAND this
action for further proceedings.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed an application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on August 1, 2016, alleging a
disability onset date of November 14, 2014. Transcript
(“Tr.) 18. The Commissioner denied his application
initially on October 24, 2016, and on reconsideration on
December 12, 2016. Id. Ayala requested a hearing,
which was held on April 18, 2017, before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Brock Cima. Id. Present at
the hearing were Ayala, his attorney, and Todd M. Harden, an
impartial vocational expert (“VE”). Id.
The ALJ issued his decision on May 10, 2017, finding that
Ayala was not disabled. Tr. 28.
decision, the ALJ employed the statutory five-step analysis.
At step one, he found that Ayala had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since July 12, 2016, the alleged
disability onset date. Tr. 21, Finding 3. At step two, the
ALJ determined that Walker had the severe impairment of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Id.,
Finding 4. At step three, the ALJ found that Ayala did not
have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of one of those listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Tr. 23, Finding 5. In particular,
the ALJ concluded that Ayala had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). Tr. 23, Finding 6. The ALJ found
specifically that Ayala could lift and/or carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently, sit for six hours,
stand for six hours, walk for six hours, and push and pull as
much as he could lift or carry. Id. The ALJ further
found that Ayala could climb ramps and stairs occasionally
but could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and that
he could coocasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. Id. At step four, the ALJ found that Ayala
was unable to perform any past relevant work. Tr. 26, Finding
7. At step five, the ALJ found that there existed a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that Ayala
could perform. Tr. 27, Finding 1. In particular, the ALJ
noted the jobs of hand packager, mail clerk, and cashier II,
based on the testimony of the VE. Id. As a result of
the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ayala had not been
under a disability from July 12, 2016, through May 10, 2017.
Tr. 23, Finding 10.
Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Ayala's request
for review on September 6, 2017. Tr. 1-5. Therefore the
ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final
decision and is properly before the Court for review. See
Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir.
2005) (“[T]he Commissioner's final decision
includes the Appeals Council's denial of a request for
was born on December 16, 1973. Tr. 13, 54. He has a
high-school education. Tr. 51. Ayala served in the military,
including three tours overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tr.
45. At the time of his hearing on April 18, 2017, he had
served in the military for nine years and was in the Army
Reserve. Tr. 40, 46. Ayala also had previous work as a mail
carrier for the United States Postal Service. Tr. 41-42.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
II, 42 U.S.C. § 404 et seq. of the SSA controls
the disability insurance program as well as numerous
regulatory provisions concerning disability insurance.
See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404. The SSA defines a disability
as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected
to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); McQueen v.
Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 154 (5th Cir. 1999).
determine whether a claimant is disabled and thus entitled to
disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a five-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). For step one, the claimant must not be
presently working at any substantial gainful activity to
obtain disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial gainful activity”
means work activity involving the use of significant physical
or mental abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1572; Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271
n.2 (5th Cir. 2002). For step two, the claimant must have an
impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); see also Stone v.
Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1100-03 (5th Cir. 1985). For
step three, disability exists if the impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment
listed in the Listing of Impairments (“Listing”)
found in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(d). Before proceeding to step four, the
Commissioner must assess the claimant's RFC-“the
most the claimant can still do despite his physical and
mental limitations.” Perez v. Barnhart, 415
F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. §
416.945(a)(1). For step four, if the claimant's medical
status alone does not constitute a disability, the impairment
must prevent the claimant from returning to his past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). For step five, the
impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any work,
considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and past
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f); Crowley v.
Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197-98 (5th Cir. 1999). “The
claimant bears the burden of showing that [he] is disabled
through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth,
the Commissioner must show that there is other substantial
work in the national economy that the claimant can
perform.” Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448
(5th Cir. 2007). “If the Commissioner meets this
burden, the claimant must then prove he in fact cannot
perform the alternate work.” Carey v. Apfel,
230 F.3d 131, 135 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Crowley,
197 F.3d at 198.)
Court's decision is limited to a determination of whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and
whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the decision. Audler, 501 F.3d at 447.
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
responsible mind might accept to support a conclusion. It is
more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance. A
finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no
credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the
decision.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704
(5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d
413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000)). The Court may neither reweigh the
evidence in the record nor substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's, but it will carefully scrutinize the
record to determine if evidence is present. Hollis v.
Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988);
Harris, 209 F.3d at 417. “Conflicts in the
evidence are for the [Commissioner] and not the courts to
resolve.” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d
492, 496 (5th Cir. 1999)).