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Garcia v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision. Jurisdiction is predicated upon 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties having consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, the case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule CV-72 and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules for the Western District of Texas.

         Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court orders that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.


         On October 22, 2013, and November 14, 2013, respectively, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of July 1, 2010. (R. 205-213). His applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 69-82, 85-98). Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing, which was held on March 7, 2016. (R. 40-68, 125-126). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision on May 19, 2016, denying benefits. (R. 24-32). Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied review. (R. 1-4). Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. ISSUE

         Plaintiff presents the following issue for review: whether the ALJ's RFC finding is supported by substantial evidence. (ECF. No. 16, p. 3). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) “playing doctor” by assigning little weight to all medical opinions; and (2) rejecting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Cesar Calianga, without good cause. (Id. at 4-8). Moreover, because Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)[1] did not include the extent of his limitations, Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's hypothetical to the Vocational Expert (“VE”) was improper. (Id. at 7).


         A. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “Substantial evidence ‘is more than a mere scintilla, and less than a preponderance.'” Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272 (citation omitted). The Commissioner's findings will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. Id. (citation omitted). 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) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         In applying the substantial evidence standard, the court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its own judgment for the Commissioner's, even if it believes the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272 (citation omitted). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve. Id. (citation omitted); Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

         B. Evaluation Process

         The ALJ evaluates disability claims according to a sequential five-step process: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment(s) meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; and (5) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Once the claimant satisfies her burden under the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that there is other gainful employment available in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). This burden may be satisfied either by reference to the Medical Vocational Guidelines of the regulations, by VE testimony, or by other similar evidence. Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1304 (5th Cir. 1987). Once the Commissioner makes the requisite showing at step five, the burden shifts back to the Plaintiff to rebut the finding that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers that the Plaintiff could perform. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005).

         In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of hypertension and diabetes mellitus. (R. 26-27). Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the listed impairments. (R. 27-28). After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a full range of medium work.[2] (R. 28-31). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work. (R. ...

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