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Hernandez v. Berryhill

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

June 15, 2018

DANIEL HERNANDEZ, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant

          OPINION

          MIGUELA TORRES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Daniel Hernandez appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. The parties consented to the transfer of the case to this Court for determination and entry of judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Local Court Rule CV-72. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision will be REVERSED and the action REMANDED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Hernandez was twenty-eight years old at the time of his hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 29).[2] He has an associate's degree and has worked as a commercial truck driver, satellite dish installer, construction laborer, and basic energy and oil field worker. (R. 29, 176). Hernandez filed applications for DIB and SSI on August 27, 2012, in which he alleged disability beginning July 26, 2012, due to chronic heart disease and as a result of having suffered at least one stroke. (R. 152-59, 188). After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, Hernandez requested a hearing. (R. 113-14). On March 20, 2014, a hearing was conducted before the ALJ. (R. 24-46). On June 18, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits on the ground that Hernandez was capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 13-19). On September 20, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Hernandez's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final administrative decision. (R. 1-3).

         In her written decision, the ALJ found that Hernandez had the following severe impairments: status-post cerebral vascular accident (stroke) with residual hemiparesis of the left hand; congestive heart failure, status-post implantable cardioverter defibrillator; hypertension; obesity; and obstructive sleep apnea. (R. 14). The ALJ found that Hernandez had the residual functional capacity to:

lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, and stand, walk, or sit for up to six hours of an eight-hour workday. Further, he can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl and occasionally handle and finger with the left non-dominant hand. However, he must avoid exposure to hazardous conditions such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.

(R. 15). Hernandez argues that the ALJ erred in finding his congestive heart failure did not meet or equal the requirements of Listing 4.02. (PL's Br., ECF No. 20, at 2).

         II. 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. Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting 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 to support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chafer, 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) (citation omitted).

         In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, the Court must carefully examine the entire record, but may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). The Court 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) (citation omitted). 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) (citation omitted). If the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Id.

         B. Chronic Heart Failure, Listing 4.02

         From July 30, 2012, through August 1, 2012, Hernandez was hospitalized and the discharge diagnoses were new stroke, left hemiparesis, old stroke present, obesity, hypertension, and obstructive sleep apnea. (R. 318-57). The sole issue presented by Hernandez is whether his congestive heart failure meets or equals the requirements of Listing 4.02. (PL's Br., ECF No. 20, at 2). Disability claims are evaluated according to a five-step sequential process: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe, medically-determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the impairment or combination of impairments prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the impairment or combination of impairments prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The claimant bears the burden of proving through the use of medical findings that he meets a listing at step three of the sequential evaluation process. See Greenspan v. Shalala,38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994); see also McCuller v. Barnhart,72 Fed.Appx. 155, 158 (5th Cir. 2003). "For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria." Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990). "The criteria in the medical listings are 'demanding and stringent.'" Falco v. Shalala,27 F.3d 160, 162 (5th Cir. 1994). "An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how severely, does not qualify." Sullivan, 493 U.S. at 530. "A claimant is deemed to be conclusively disabled if his impairments meet, or equal in severity, an impairment that ...


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