United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KIMBERLY C. PRIEST JOHNSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Brenda Joyce Mathews (“Plaintiff”) brings this
appeal under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of a
final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to
the parties' consent to proceed before the magistrate
judge (Dkt. 12), this case has been transferred to the
undersigned for all proceedings and entry of judgment.
See Dkt. 13. After carefully reviewing the briefs
submitted by the parties, as well as the evidence contained
in the administrative record, the Court finds the
Commissioner's decision should be
December 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act),
42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1382c, alleging a
disability onset date of March 1, 2013, due to arthritis,
fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, heart problems, high blood
pressure, and “numbness in extremities.”
Transcript (“Tr.”) at 16, 195-196, 212. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
regarding Plaintiff's applications on June 30, 2015,
which was attended by Plaintiff and her non-attorney
representative. A vocational expert (“VE”) and
two medical experts (“ME”) also appeared and
testified. Tr. at 34-61.
August 12, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision (the “ALJ
Decision”) concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled
for purposes of the Act. Tr. at 10-33. After considering the
evidence and testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
morbid obesity; bilateral knee arthritis; status post
bilateral total knee replacement; early degenerative
arthritis in bilateral hands; history of high blood pressure;
sleep apnea; flat foot deformity; depression; and situational
anxiety qualified as severe impairments under the Act, but
concluded that Plaintiff's impairments or combination of
impairments (severe or non-severe) did not meet or medically
equal one of the impairments listed in the regulations for
presumptive disability. Tr. at 18-20; 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App'x 1. Tr. at 19-20.
assessed Plaintiff with a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) for a full range of sedentary work as
defined under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a),
along with no complex instructions or complex judgments; no
complex tasks; and no lengthy complex social interaction
involving complex judgments. Tr. at 20-21. Based on testimony
from the VE and Plaintiff's descriptions of her past
jobs, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work of customer service representative
(sedentary and semi-skilled, SVP 4) as actually and generally
performed. Tr. at 27-28. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Tr. at 28.
October 5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. Tr. at 1-5. Therefore, the ALJ's
decision became the Commissioner's final decision.
See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000); 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff then filed the instant action
for review by this Court.
II provides for federal disability insurance benefits while
Title XVI provides for supplemental security income for the
disabled. Judicial review of the denial of disability
benefits under Section 205(g) of the Act, 42, U.S.C. §
405(g), is limited to “determining whether the decision
is supported by substantial evidence in the record and
whether the proper legal standards were used in evaluating
the evidence.” Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d
431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Villa v. Sullivan,
895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990)); Muse v.
Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991) (per
curiam). A finding of no substantial evidence is
appropriate only where there is a conspicuous absence of
credible choices or no contrary medical evidence. Johnson
v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing
Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir.
1983)). Accordingly, the Court “may not reweigh the
evidence in the record, nor try the issues de novo,
nor substitute [the Court's] judgment for the
[Commissioner's], even if the evidence preponderates
against the [Commissioner's] decision.”
Bowling, 36 F.3d at 435 (quoting Harrell v.
Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988)); see
Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993);
Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir.
1992); Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir.
1985). Rather, conflicts in the evidence are for the
Commissioner to decide. Spellman, 1 F.3d 357, 360
(5th Cir. 1993) (citing Selders v. Sullivan, 914
F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)); Anthony, 954 F.2d
289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing Patton v.
Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983)). A
decision on the ultimate issue of whether a claimant is
disabled, as defined in the Act, rests with the Commissioner.
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455-56 (5th Cir.
2000); SSR 96-5p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34471 (July 2, 1996).
evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a
preponderance-that is, enough that a reasonable mind would
judge it sufficient to support the decision.” Pena
v. Astrue, 271 Fed. App'x 382, 383 (5th Cir. 2003)
(citing Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 162 (5th Cir.
1994)). Substantial evidence includes four factors: (1)
objective medical facts or clinical findings; (2) diagnoses
of examining physicians; (3) subjective evidence of pain and
disability; and (4) the plaintiff's age, education, and
work history. Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1302
n.4 (5th Cir. 1987). If supported by substantial evidence,
the decision of the Commissioner is conclusive and must be
affirmed. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390
(1971). However, the Court must do more than “rubber
stamp” the ALJ's decision; the Court must
“scrutinize the record and take into account whatever
fairly detracts from the substantiality of evidence
supporting the [Commissioner's] findings.” Cook
v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985). The Court
may remand for additional evidence if substantial evidence is
lacking or “upon a showing that there is new evidence
which is material and that there is good cause for the
failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a
prior proceeding.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Latham
v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 482, 483 (5th Cir. 1994).
claimant for disability has the burden of proving a
disability. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th
Cir. 1991). The Act defines “disability” as an
“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 can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1)(A); 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A “physical or mental
impairment” is an anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormality which is demonstrable by acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the
Commissioner must utilize a five-step, sequential process.
Villa, 895 F.2d at 1022. A finding of
“disabled” or “not disabled” at any
step of the sequential process ends the inquiry. Id.; see
Bowling, 36 F.3d at 435 (citing Harrell, 862
F.2d at 475). Under the five-step sequential analysis, the
Commissioner must determine at step one whether the claimant
is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step
two, the Commissioner must determine whether one or more of
the claimant's impairments are severe. At step three, the
Commissioner must determine whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equal
one of the listings in Appendix I. Prior to moving to step
four, the Commissioner must determine the claimant's
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), or the most
that the claimant can do given his impairments, both severe
and non-severe. Then, at step four, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant's impairments are severe
enough to prevent him from performing his past relevant work.
Finally, at step five, the Commissioner must determine
whether the claimant can perform other work available in the
local or national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(b)-(f) and 404.1520(b)(1)(f). An affirmative answer
at step one or a negative answer at steps two, four, or five
results in a finding of “not disabled.” See
Villa, 895 F.2d at 1022. An affirmative answer at step
three, or an affirmative answer at steps four and five,
creates a presumption of disability. Id.
burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps,
but shifts to the Commissioner at step five if the claimant
shows she cannot perform her past relevant work. Anderson
v. Sullivan, 887 F.2d 630, 632-33 (5th Cir. 1989)
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