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Thomas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

March 26, 2018

JAMIE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          REBECCA RUTHERFORD, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jamie Thomas brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 405(g). For the following reasons, the final decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and this case is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed her initial claim alleging that she is disabled due to Crohn's disease, bipolar II disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. Tr. 80 [ECF No. 11-4 at 2]. After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing was held on May 17, 2016, in Dallas, Texas, before Administrative Law Judge Kevin Batik (the “ALJ”). Tr. 32 [ECF No. 11-3]. Plaintiff was born on April 8, 1956 and was 60 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 32 & 80. Plaintiff graduated high school and attended college for two years. Tr. 240 [ECF No. 11-7]. Plaintiff has past work experience as a billing collection representative. Tr. 21 [ECF No. 11-3]. On July 12, 2016, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from her alleged onset date of March 7, 2014 through the date of his decision. Tr. 21 [ECF No. 11-3].

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, degenerative joint disease of the shoulder, and diabetes mellitus. Tr. 15 [ECF No. 11-3]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in Title 20, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 17 [ECF No. 11-3]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in Title 20, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 404.1567(b). Tr. 18 [ECF No. 11-3].

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff: (1) could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; (2) could occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, and reach overhead with the dominant upper extremity; (3) was precluded from crawling or using ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (4) could understand, remember, and carry out detailed, but not complex tasks and instructions; (5) was able to respond to changes in a routine work setting; and (6) could have occasional interactions with coworkers, supervisors, and the public. Tr. 18. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a billing collection representative, because this work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. Tr. 21 [ECF No. 11-3].

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and on October 20, 2016, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. Tr. 2 [ECF No. 11-3]. Plaintiff filed this action in the federal district court on December 19, 2016. Compl. [ECF No. 1].

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A claimant must prove that she is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act to be entitled to social security benefits. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 563-64 (5th Cir. 1995); Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988). The definition of disability under the Act is “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically-determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or 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)(1)(A); Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 1992).

         The Commissioner utilizes a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Those steps are that:

(1) an individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found disabled regardless of medical findings;
(2) an individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be disabled;
(3) an individual who meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of the regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors;
(4) if an individual is capable of performing the work the individual has done in the past, a finding of “not ...

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