United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Wichita Falls Division
ORDER ACCEPTING FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND
RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
O'CONNOR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
United States Magistrate Judge made Findings, Conclusions,
and a Recommendation (“FCR”) (ECF No. 17) in this
case. The FCR recommended that this Court affirm the
Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled.
Plaintiff filed an objection (ECF No. 18). The Court reviewed
de novo those portions of the FCR to which Plaintiff
made her objection. For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's objection is OVERRULED, and
the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's
FCR as the Findings and Conclusions of the Court.
alleges that her disability began on September 24, 2011. Tr.
26. The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(the “Commissioner”) denied her claim on March
25, 2015, and again on reconsideration on June 16, 2015. Tr.
26. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Angelita
Hamilton conducted a hearing on June 15, 2016, and issued a
decision on July 29, 2016, finding that Williams was not
disabled. Tr. 39. The ALJ applied the five-step analysis for
determining disability under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Tr.
27-39. The ALJ found, concerning step three, that
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet the Listing of
Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404(p). Tr. 30-32. In doing so,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work. Tr.
32-38. The ALJ then found-concerning step four-that
Plaintiff's impairments did not prevent Plaintiff from
returning to her past relevant work. Tr. 38. Accordingly, the
ALJ did not reach step five and found that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 39. On March 2, 2017, the Social Security
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final
decision. Tr. 1. On January 25, 2018, the United States
Magistrate Judge issued an FCR recommending that this Court
affirm the Commissioner's decision. FCR, ECF No. 17.
determine whether a claimant is disabled and thus entitled to
disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a five-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). The third step requires the Commissioner to
consider whether the claimant's impairment meets one of
the listings in the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404(p). Id. In doing so, the Commissioner will
consider opinions from medical sources, the claimant's
residual functional capacity or RFC, and the application of
vocational factors, but the final determination whether a
claimant's impairment meets the Listing of Impairments is
reserved solely to the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(d)(2). Before moving to step four, the Commissioner
must assess the claimant's RFC, which is “the most
[a claimant] can still do despite [her] limitations.”
20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1); see Perez v.
Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). Having
determined the claimant's RFC, the fourth step requires
the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant can still
do past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
“The claimant bears the burden of showing that [she] is
disabled through the first four steps of the analysis . . .
.” Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th
determining disability, the Commissioner should give
“great weight” to “[t]he opinion of the
treating physician who is familiar with the claimant's
impairments . . . .” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d
448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000). Indeed, the Commissioner should
give “controlling weight” to the treating
physician's opinion on the nature and severity of a
patient's impairment if that opinion is (1)
“well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques” and (2) “not
inconsistent with . . . other substantial evidence.”
Id. (quoting Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d
172, 176 (5th Cir. 1995)). If the Commissioner does not give
that well-supported, undisputed treating physician's
opinion controlling weight, the Commissioner must go through
a detailed six-factor analysis to explain why he did not do
so. Newton, 209 F.3d at 455-56. But if a treating
physician's opinion is either disputed or not
well-supported, the Commissioner is not required to go
through the six factor analysis. Heck v. Colvin, 674
F. App'x 411, 415 (5th Cir. 2017) (“Nor did the ALJ
err in failing to consider the factors identified in the
regulation before declining to give controlling weight to Dr.
Henderson's responses . . . because such consideration is
required only when there is no other reliable evidence from
treating physicians that contradicts the responses.”
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to deciding whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence in
the record supports the decision. Audler, 501 F.3d
at 447. “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence
as a responsible mind might accept to support a conclusion.
It is more than a mere scintilla and less than a
preponderance. A finding of no substantial evidence is
appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or
medical findings support the decision.” Boyd v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001) (quotation
marks omitted). The Court may neither reweigh the evidence in
the record nor substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's, but it will carefully scrutinize the
record to determine if substantial evidence is present.
Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir.
1988). “Conflicts in the evidence are for the
[Commissioner] and not the courts to resolve.”
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000).
FCR, the Magistrate Judge recommended that this Court affirm
the Commissioner's findings. FCR 1, ECF No. 17. The
Magistrate Judge found that substantial evidence supported
the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's RFC, and that
the ALJ properly weighed the medical source opinions of
record. See Id. at 4-13. Plaintiff generally objects
to the Magistrate Judge's findings. See Obj.,
ECF No. 18. The Court OVERRULES
Plaintiff's objection for the following reasons.
The Magistrate Judge Correctly Found that Substantial
Evidence Supports the ALJ's RFC
found that Plaintiff has severe impairments that include
obesity, connective tissue disease, Sjogren's syndrome,
osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease. Tr. 28-30.
Notwithstanding these severe impairments, the ALJ found that
they did not meet an impairment on the Listing of Impairments
in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404(p). See Tr. 30-2. The ALJ then
found that the claimant had the residual functional capacity,
or RFC, to perform “sedentary work” as defined in
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Tr. 32-38. In reaching this
conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “retains a
robust set of activities of daily living that is generally
inconsistent with disability, ” and that
“[r]eview of the medical evidence reveals that the
claimant's symptoms and functional loss are not as severe
as alleged, and that her symptoms are largely intermittent
and variable in intensity.” Tr. 33. The ALJ reached
this conclusion by relying on the entire medical record,
including medical evaluations by Dr. Chris Codding, Dr.
Jerome Adams, Dr. Patty Rowley, Dr. Amita Hedge, Dr. Jeremy
Phelps, Dr. Jeff Swanson, Dr. F. Najan, and other physical
impairment evaluations. See Tr. 32-38. While
Plaintiff testified that she could only work for about two
days out of the week due to her impairments, Tr. 71-73, the
ALJ gave these statements little weight in view of the whole
evidence. Tr. 33 (“[C]laimant's statements
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the
medical evidence and other evidence in the record . . .
objects that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's conclusion about Plaintiff's RFC. Plaintiff
points to testimony by a vocational expert that missing two
or more days of work per month would “probably
eliminate work.” Tr. 82. Because Plaintiff testified
that she could only work about two days a week, Tr. 71-73,
and because evidence in the record corroborated this claim,
Plaintiff argues that she could not maintain substantial
gainful employment. Obj. 2-3, ECF No. 18. In support of these
arguments, Plaintiff analogizes this case to Ripley v.
Chater, wherein the ALJ erroneously found that claimant
could perform sedentary work even though “[t]he only
evidence regarding Ripley's ability to work came from
Ripley's own testimony.” 67 F.3d 552, 557 (5th Cir.
determining residual functional capacity, “[t]he ALJ
must consider subjective evidence of pain, but it is within
his discretion to determine the pain's disabling
nature.” Dunbar v. Barnhart, 330 F.3d 670, 672
(5th Cir. 2003) (quotation marks omitted). Here the ALJ
weighed Plaintiff's own subjective testimony of her
impairments against the rest of the medical evidence in the
record and, giving the other evidence greater weight,
concluded that Plaintiff's impairments were not so severe
as to be disabling. Tr. 32-38. Substantial evidence in the
record supports this conclusion, see id.-indeed, the
evidence that the ALJ relies upon is certainly more than a
scintilla, cf. Boyd, 239 F.3d at 74, more than a
single piece of testimony, cf. Ripley, 67 F.3d at
557, and more than enough for a reasonable mind to accept the
ALJ's conclusion. Cf. Boyd, 239 F.3d at 704.
“A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate
only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings
support the decision, ” id., but here the ALJ
conducted a thorough review of the record and ...