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Hernandez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

March 9, 2018

MELISSA A. HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT F. CASTANEDA, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Both parties consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, and the case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules for this district. For the reasons set forth below, this Court orders that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application DIB on January 17, 2014, and an application for SSI on January 24, 2014. (R:13). In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on December 13, 2012. (Id.). These claims were denied on June 3, 2014, and upon reconsideration on August 25, 2014. (Id.). On June 28, 2016, a video hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge James Linehan (“ALJ”). (Id. at 33). An unfavorable decision was issued on August 5, 2016, and her request for review was denied on June 29, 2017. (Id. at 1-10).

         ISSUE

         Plaintiff presented the following issue for review:

1. The ALJ failed to elicit a reasonable explanation for the inconsistency between Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony and the information contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) pursuant to Social Security Ruling 00-4p.

(ECF. 17:1-2).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1120 (1995). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but can be less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding of no substantial evidence will be made only where there is a “conspicuous absence of credible choices” or “no contrary medical evidence.” Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)). In reviewing the substantiality of the evidence, a court must consider the record as a whole and “must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 818, 823 (5th Cir. 1986).

         If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173. In applying the substantial evidence standard, a court must carefully examine the entire record, but may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Haywood v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 1463, 1466 (5th Cir. 1989). It may not substitute its own judgment “even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision, ” because substantial evidence is less than a preponderance. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, and not the courts, to resolve. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993).

         II. ALJ's Hearing Decision

         At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 13, 2012. (R:15). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cirrhosis secondary to alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, and lumbar degenerative disc disease. (Id. at 16). At the third step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an ...


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