United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE NOTICE AND ORDER
JEFFREY L. CURETON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code,
Section 636(b). The Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendation
of the United States Magistrate are as follows:
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Julie Arm Maldonado ("Maldonado") filed this action
pursuant to section 405(g) and 1383(c) of Title 42 of the
United States Code for judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for
disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title
II and supplemental security income ("SSI") under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). In
January 2013, Maldonado protectively applied for DIB and SSI,
alleging her disability began on February 28, 2012.
(Transcript ("Tr.") 120, 312-22.) After her
application for DIB and SSI were denied both initially and on
reconsideration, Maldonado requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 120,
153-202, 211-23.) The ALJ held a hearing on January 20, 2015,
and he issued a decision on July 14, 2015, in which he found
Maldonado was not disabled. (Tr. 120-29, 135-52.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
insurance is governed by Title II, 42 U.S.C. § 404 et
seq., and SSI benefits are governed by Title XVI, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381 et seq., of the SSA. In addition, numerous
regulatory provisions govern disability insurance and SSI
benefits. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404 (disability insurance); 20
C.F.R. Pt. 416 (SSI). Although technically governed by
different statutes and regulations, "[t]he law and
regulations governing the determination of disability are the
same for both disability insurance benefits and SSI."
Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir.
defines a disability as a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment lasting at least twelve months that
prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful
activity. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 1382(a)(3)(A);
McQueen v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 154 (5th Cir. 1999).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, and thus
entitled to disability benefits, the Court employs a
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
First, the claimant must not be presently working at any
substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is
defined as work activity involving the use of significant
physical or mental abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527, 416.972. Second, the claimant must
have an impairment or combination of impairments that is
severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c);
Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir,
1985). Third, disability will be found if the impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment
listed in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing"),
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). Fourth, if disability cannot be
found on the basis of the claimant's medical status
alone, the impairment or impairments must prevent the
claimant from returning to her past relevant work.
Id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). Fifth, the
impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any work,
considering the claimant's residual functional capacity,
age, education, and past work experience. Id.
§§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); Crowley v.
Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197-98 (5th Cir. 1999). At steps
one through four, the claimant has the burden of proof to
show that she is disabled. Crowley, 197 F.3d at 198. If the
claimant satisfies this responsibility, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner at the final step to show that there is
other gainful employment the claimant is capable of
performing in spite of her existing impairment. Id.
denial of disability benefits is reviewed only to determine
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d
558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995); Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d
1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as a responsible mind might accept to
support a conclusion. Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698,
704 (5th Cir. 2001). It is more than a mere scintilla but
less than a preponderance. Id. A finding of no
substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible
evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision.
Id. This 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 the evidence is present. Harris v.
Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000);
Hollis, 837 F.2d at 1383.
brief, Maldonado presents the following issues:
1. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to properly weigh the
medical opinion evidence;
2. Whether the ALJ's credibility determination is
supported by substantial evidence; and
3. Whether the ALJ erred in relying on vocational expert
("VE") testimony elicited in response to an
incomplete hypothetical question.
(Plaintiffs Brief ("Pl.'s Br.") at 1.)
July 14, 2015 decision, the ALJ concluded that Maldonado was
not disabled within the meaning of the SSA. (Tr. 128.) In
making his determination, the ALJ proceeded to follow the
five-step sequential evaluation process set forth above. (Tr.
122-28.) At Step One, the ALJ found that Maldonado did not
engage in substantial gainful activity since February 28,
2012, the alleged onset date of Maldonado's disability.
(Tr. 122.) Maldonado's earnings records reflect earnings
below the substantial gainful activity ("SGA")
level in both 2012 and 2013. (Tr. 122, 354.) At Step Two, the
ALJ held that Maldonado had the following "severe"
impairments: (1) hepatitis C; (2) back disorder; (3)
affective mood disorder; (4) bipolar disorder; (5) dysthymic
disorder; and (6) anxiety disorder. (Tr. 123.) At Step Three,
the ALJ found that Maldonado did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or was medically
equivalent to the severity of one of the listed impairments
in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 123-24.) As
to Maldonado's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), the ALJ stated:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; to stand and walk 6 hours in an
8-hour workday; and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except
occasionally, climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; no use of foot controls; and occasional exposure to
extreme temperatures, vibrations, moving mechanical parts,
electrical shock, hazardous exposed places, radiation, and
explosives, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation.
From a general educational development (GED) standpoint, the
claimant retains the reasoning, mathematics and language
abilities to perform simple work with understanding and
carrying out simple one- or two-step instructions, dealing
with standardized situations with occasional or no variables
in situations encountered on the job, performing basic
arithmetic operations, and reading, writing, and speaking in
simple sentences using normal work order. Furthermore, the
claimant is limited to occasional contact with the public,
co-workers, and supervisors.
(Tr. 124 (footnote and emphasis omitted).) At Step Four, the
ALJ stated that Maldonado was unable to perform any of her
past relevant work. (Tr. 127.) Finally, at Step Five, in
light of the testimony provided by the VE, the ALJ found that
"[considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform." (Tr. 128 (citation
omitted).) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Maldonado was not
disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
February 28, 2012 through the date of his decision. (Tr.
Medical Opinion Evidence
Opinions of ...