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Arana v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2018

ISABEL ARANA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Isabel Arana seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         For the reasons explained below, the hearing decision is affirmed.


         Mr. Arana alleges that he is disabled as a result of a spine and shoulder injury. After his application for disability insurance benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration, Mr. Arana requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). That hearing was held on May 27, 2015. See Dkt. No. 12 (Administrative Record [“Tr.”]) at 48-84. At the time of the hearing, Mr. Arana was 57 years old. He is a high school graduate and has past work experience as a general construction worker. Mr. Arana has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 25, 2012.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Arana was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability benefits. See Tr. at 34-42 (ALJ's Decision). Although the medical evidence established that Mr. Arana suffered from thoracic and lumbar degenerative disc disease, history of right rib fracture, ventral hernia status post hernia repair, and obesity, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. The ALJ further determined that Mr. Arana had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of medium work but could not return his past relevant employment. Relying on a vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Mr. Arana was capable of working as a dining room attendant, hand packager, and cleaner, industrial - jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Given his age, education, and exertional capacity for medium work, the ALJ determined that Mr. Arana was not disabled under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines.

         Mr. Arana appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed.

         In a single ground for relief, Mr. Arana contends that the assessment of his residual functional capacity is not supported by substantial evidence and results from reversible legal error.

         The Court determines that the hearing decision is affirmed in all respects.

         Legal Standards

         Judicial review in social security cases is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether Commissioner applied the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923. The Commissioner, rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, including weighing conflicting testimony and determining witnesses' credibility, and the Court does not try the issues de novo. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994). This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's but must scrutinize the entire record to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports the hearing decision. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988). The Court “may affirm only on the grounds that the Commissioner stated for [the] decision.” Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.

         “In order to qualify for disability insurance benefits, a claimant must suffer from a disability.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A disabled worker is entitled to monthly social security benefits if certain conditions are met. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines “disability” as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or last for a continued period of 12 months. See Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).

         “In evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner conducts a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether (1) the claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the social security regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other substantial gainful activity.” Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir. 2007).

         The claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a disability through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there is other substantial work in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review is ...

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