United States District Court, N.D. Texas, San Angelo Division
DIANA S. LARA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION
SCOTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Diana Lara seeks judicial review
of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied her
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act. This case was assigned to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 7). The parties consented to
proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 13).
After considering all the pleadings, briefs, and
administrative record, this Court finds that the decision of
the Commissioner is not based on legal error or unsupported
by substantial evidence, is therefore affirmed, and
Lara's case is dismissed.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed an application for DIB on June 28, 2013, alleging
impairments that were disabling as of April 12,
2013. That application was denied initially on
June 28, 2013 and after reconsideration on January 27, 2014.
Lara requested a hearing, which was held before an
Administrative Law Judge on June 16, 2015. The ALJ issued a
decision on July 17, 2015 finding Lara not disabled.
the ALJ found during step one that Lara had not engaged in
any substantial gainful activity since April 12, 2013. (Doc.
12-3, 18). At step two, the ALJ determined Lara had the
impairments of osteoarthritis and major depressive disorder
at the date of last insurance. (Doc. 12-3, 18). However, the
ALJ decided those impairments were not severe under the
regulations and that Lara therefore had no severe impairments
during the insured period. (Doc. 12-3, 18). Accordingly, he
held that she "was not under a disability ... [between]
the alleged onset date [and] the date last insured."
(Doc. 12-3, 22). Lara applied to the Appeals Council, which
denied review on September 30, 2016. Therefore, the ALJ's
ruling is the Commissioner's final decision and is
properly before the court for review. Higginbotham v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[t]he
Commissioner's final decision includes the Appeals
Council's denial of [a claimant's] request for
to her pleadings, testimony at the administrative hearing,
and the administrative record, Lara was 51 years old and
living with her husband and two teenaged children at the time
of the administrative hearing. Her previous employment
consisted of administrative and secretarial work in medical
STANDARD OF REVIEW
person is disabled if she is unable 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
twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(c)(a)(3)(A),
423 (d)(1)(A) (2012). '"Substantial gainful
activity' is work activity involving significant physical
or mental abilities for pay or profit." Masterson v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572(a)-(b).
evaluate a disability claim, the Commissioner follows 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); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). "The
claimant bears the burden of showing [she] 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, 501 F.3d at 448. The
Commissioner must assess a claimant's residual functional
capacity before proceeding to steps 4 and 5. Perez v.
Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). Regulations
define RFC as "the most [a claimant] can still do
despite [their] limitations." 20 C.F.R. §
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to an inquiry into whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings
and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal
standards. Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718
(5th Cir. 2002) (citing Estate of Morris v. Shalala,
207 F.3d 744, 745 (5th Cir. 2000)). Substantial evidence
"is more than a mere scintilla and less than a
preponderance" and includes "such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000); Watson v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 212,
215 (5th Cir. 2002). If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's findings, then the findings are conclusive
and the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.
Court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de
novo, or substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's even if the Court believes the evidence
weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Master
son, 309 F.3d at 272. Moreover, "[c]onflicts in the
evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to
resolve." Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.
raises four issues on appeal. She believes the ALJ improperly
considered a retrospective opinion from a treating physician,
erred in finding fewer severe impairments than a state agency
consulting physician, failed to properly consider a
third-party function ...