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Cox v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2018

KENNETH BERNARD COX, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          REBECCA RUTHERFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kenneth Bernard Cox brings this action for judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's (“Commissioner”) final decision denying his claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI 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 AFFIRMED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his initial claim on June 11, 2013 alleging that he is disabled due to depression. Tr. 76 [ECF No. 13-4]. After Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing was held on March 26, 2015, in Dallas, Texas, before an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”). Tr. 49 [ECF No. 13-3]. Plaintiff was born on May 29, 1977, and was 37 years old at the time of the March 26, 2015 hearing. Tr. 49, 76. Plaintiff has a high school education. Tr. 41 [ECF No. 13-3]. On July 17, 2015, the ALJ issued her decision finding that Plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from June 11, 2013 through the date of her decision. Tr. 42 [ECF No. 13-3]. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of major depressive disorder. Tr. 34 [ECF No. 13-3]. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff did 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. 36 [ECF No. 13-3].

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels with the following nonexertional limitations: the ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, make simple decisions, and attend and concentrate for extended periods. Tr. 38. The ALJ also determined that interpersonal contact should remain incidental to the work performed, but that Plaintiff could accept instructions and respond to changes in a routine work setting. Tr. 38. The ALJ sought the advice of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) as to whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, because Plaintiff has nonexertional limitations. Tr. 41. The VE testified that, given these factors, Plaintiff could perform the jobs of a hand packager, laundry worker, and hospital cleaner. Tr. 41. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 41. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and on January 12, 2017, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. Tr. 1 [ECF No. 13-3]. Plaintiff filed this action in the federal district court on February 17, 2017. Compl. [ECF No. 1].

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A claimant must prove that he 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 disabled” will be made; and
(5) if an individual's impairment precludes the individual from performing the work the individual has done in the past, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.

Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f)). The burden of proof lies with the claimant to prove disability under the first four steps of the five-step inquiry. Leggett, 67 F.3d at 564. The burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner at step five of the inquiry to prove that other work, aside from the claimant's past work, can be performed by the claimant. Bowling v. ...


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