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Hernandez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

April 2, 2018

RAFAEL HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT F. CASTANEDA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Both parties consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, and the case was transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C to the Local Court Rules for this district. For the reasons set forth below, this Court orders that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on November 25, 2013, for disability beginning on November 22, 2013. (R: 161-65, 187; ECF. 16:1). This claim was initially denied on February 6, 2014, and upon reconsideration on May 21, 2014. (R: 81-84, 89-91). On November 17, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Katherine Brown, and an unfavorable decision against Plaintiff was issued on March 15, 2016. (R: 29, 40- 62). Plaintiff's request for review was denied on August 16, 2017. (R: 1-3).

         II. ISSUE

         Plaintiff presents the following issue for review:

1. Whether the ALJ erred in her evaluation of the treating physician's opinion.

(ECF. 16: 2-8).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding of no substantial evidence will be made only where there is a “conspicuous absence of credible choices” or “no contrary medical evidence.” Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)). In reviewing the substantiality of the evidence, a court must consider the record as a whole and “must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 818, 823 (5th Cir. 1986) (quoting Parsons v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1334, 1339) (8th Cir. 1984)).

         If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173. In applying the substantial evidence standard, a court must carefully examine the entire record, but may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Haywood v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 1463, 1466 (5th Cir. 1989). It may not substitute its own judgment “even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision, ” because substantial evidence is less than a preponderance. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, and not the courts, to resolve. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993).

         B. ALJ's Hearing Decision

         At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 22, 2013. (R: 22). At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, obesity, and lumbar spine degenerative disc disease. (R: 22). At the third step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling one of the listed impairments. (R: 26). Before the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work. (R: 26). At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a garbage-collector driver. ...


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