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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas

May 18, 2018

HORACE BLAKE WALKER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          E. SCOTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Horace Walker, Jr. seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Senior United States District Judge reassigned the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties have not consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. After considering the pleadings, briefs, and administrative record, this Court recommends the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed and this case dismissed.

         I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Walker filed an application for DIB on July 21, 2014, alleging impairments that were disabling as of August 5, 2013. That application was denied initially and again on reconsideration. Walker requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on May 23, 2016. The ALJ issued a decision on July 19, 2016 finding Walker not disabled.

         Specifically, the ALJ found during step one that Walker had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (Doc. 11-1, 21). At step two, the ALJ found that Walker had the severe impairments of a left arm tremor, left shoulder injury, rotoscoliosis, and hearing loss. (Doc. 11-1, 21). In the third step, the ALJ found that those severe impairments did not meet and were not the equivalent of any of the listed impairments. (Doc. 11-1, 23). The step three analysis continued with the ALJ determining Walker retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with limitations on climbing, crawling, and reaching. (Doc. 11-1, 24). Those restrictions led the ALJ to determine at the fourth step that Walker could return to a previous job, referring to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles for analogous positions and the impact of the assessed limitations. (Doc. 11-1, 27-28). The ALJ therefore determined Walker was not under a disability between the alleged onset date and the date he was last insured. (Doc. 11-1, 28).

         Walker then applied to the Appeals Council, which denied review on June 23, 2016. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision and is properly before the Court for review. Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[t]he Commissioner's final decision includes the Appeals Council's denial of [a claimant's] request for review").

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         According to the pleadings, testimony at the administrative hearing, and administrative record, Walker was 64 and living with his wife at the time of the administrative hearing. He had employment history in oil field production and sales, farm equipment use and delivery, and flooring sales and installation. He believes his physical and mental impairments render him disabled under the Act.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled if he is unable 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ l382(c)(a)(3)(A), 423 (d)(1)(A) (2012). '"Substantial gainful activity' is work activity involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit." Masterson v. Bamhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. § 404.l572(a)-(b).

         To evaluate a disability claim, the Commissioner follows a "five-step sequential analysis to determine whether (1) the claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the social security regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other substantial gainful activity." Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir. 2007); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). "The claimant bears the burden of showing [he] is disabled through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth, the Commissioner must show that there is other substantial work in the national economy that the claimant can perform." Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. Before proceeding to steps 4 and 5, the Commissioner must assess a claimant's RFC. Perez v. Bamhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). RFC is defined as "the most [a claimant] can still do despite [the claimant's] limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1).

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to an inquiry into whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Waters v. Bamhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Estate of Morris v. Shalala, 207 F.3d 744, 745 (5th Cir. 2000)). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance" and includes "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000); Watson v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 212, 215 (5th Cir. 2002). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, then the findings are conclusive and the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Newton, 209 F.3d at 452. The Court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, even if the Court believes that the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. Moreover, "[c]onflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve." Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Walker alleges the ALJ erred to consider medical opinion evidence in compliance with regulations and precedent, and failed to sufficiently incorporate Walker's self-described "exemplary ...


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