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Yazmin R. M. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 22, 2019

YAZMIN R. M., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff filed a civil action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner of Social Security's final adverse decision. The district court referred the case to the United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference. For the reasons explained below, the court should AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff alleges she is disabled due to a variety of ailments, including back and leg pain, depression, bipolar disorder, hypertension, and hypothyroidism. Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 310 (ECF No. 12-1). After her application for disability insurance benefits was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Id. 26. That hearing and a supplemental hearing took place on August 11, 2015, and April 11, 2016, respectively, and resulted in a decision denying disability benefits. Id. 26-38. At the time of the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff was 42 years old. See Id. 32, 38, 86. She has less than a high school education and is not able to communicate in English. Id. 87. Plaintiff has past work experience as a meat clerk. Id.

         At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation,[1] the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date through her last date insured. Id. 28. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's hypertension, gastritis, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, obesity, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder were severe impairments, but that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of any impairment listed in the social security regulations. Id. 28-31. The ALJ further found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for a limited range of light, unskilled work. Id. 31-36. At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past work. Id. 36. At step five, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of working as a cleaner, a power screwdriver operator, and a garment sorter-jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. 37.

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. The Council affirmed. Id. 5-7. Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court in which she argues the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Legal Standards

         Judicial review in social security appeals “‘is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard.'” Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923 (quoting Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005)); see also Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995) (footnote omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923 (“Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance.'”) (quoting Perez, 415 F.3d at 461). The Commissioner, and not the courts, resolves conflicts in the evidence; thereafter, the Court may not “reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo.” Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995) (per curiam) (citing Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir. 1985)); Patton v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Accordingly, the Court may not substitute its own judgment for the Commissioner's, and it may affirm only on the grounds the Commissioner stated to support her decision. Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923 (citing Cole v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 149, 151 (5th Cir. 2002) (per curiam)).


         Plaintiff first challenges the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a limited range of light, unskilled work, as follows:

[Plaintiff] can lift, push, pull, and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; and has the ability to sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and can stand and or walk 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. Postural activities are limited to occasional but no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Environmentally, [Plaintiff] should avoid hazards, moving machinery; open flames, pits, and pools of water; and uneven services. [Plaintiff] has the capacity for understanding, remembering, and carrying out only simple instructions; making judgments commensurate with the functions of unskilled work, that is simple work-related decisions; can respond appropriately to supervision and co-workers and usual work situations, and in dealing with changes in a routine work setting. However, [Plaintiff] must have work that does not require joint decision making or teamwork, and contact with members of the general public must be no more than occasional and such contact must not require [Plaintiff's] direction or to receive directions from such members (interaction with people on the job must be superficial rather than of a substantive nature). [Plaintiff] can perform simple, routine, solitary, and repetitive work that does not require close oversight by a supervisor. [Plaintiff] needs an indoor, climate-controlled environment. [Plaintiff] does not speak English.

A.R. 31. Plaintiff argues this RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to consider all the evidence and failed to properly accommodate for limitations resulting from Plaintiff's back and shoulder pain. Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is inconsistent with the evidence of record, including the opinions of two consultative examiners.

         Contrary to Plaintiff's arguments, the ALJ's written decision shows that he properly considered all the record evidence. A.R. 31-36. The decision discusses longitudinal treatment notes from Plaintiff's visits to various clinics and doctors, hospital records, and test results. Id. The decision also discusses the medical opinion evidence of record, including the opinions of consultative examiners Dr. Patel and Dr. Huynh, as well as Plaintiff's own testimony and subjective complaints-which the ALJ explained his reasons for rejecting. Id. The fact that the ALJ may not have specifically cited each and every piece of medical evidence he considered does not establish any actual failure to consider the evidence. See Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 163-64 (5th Cir. 1994) (rejecting as unnecessary rule requiring ALJ to specifically articulate evidence that supported decision and discuss evidence that was rejected). The ALJ further properly considered all the limitations resulting from Plaintiff's back and shoulder pain. As noted, the ALJ thoroughly discussed the relevant medical evidence, including records from Ridgewood Medical Clinic and Baylor Medical Center. A.R. 32-34. This evidence includes records of numerous physical examinations with normal findings. See Id. 417-19, 504-08. Plaintiff may disagree with the ALJ's RFC assessment, but she has not shown that the RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Nor has Plaintiff shown that the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider the opinions of consultative examiners Bobby Huynh, M.D., and Kanu Patel, M.D. Dr. Huynh examined Plaintiff on December 7, 2015. A.R. 609. He noted diagnoses of lumbago, cervicalgia, muscle spasm, leg joint pain, history of mitral valve prolapse, and chronic lower back pain. Id. He further found Plaintiff was positive for tenderness at lumbar paraspinals, had tight muscles and tenderness to cervical paraspinals, trapezius and rhomboids, with decreased rotation, bilateral knee crepitus, and difficulty with tandem walk. Id. 609-10. Dr. Huynh opined that Plaintiff is unable to sit, stand or walk for extended periods and, thus, would require a sit/stand option as part of her RFC. See Id. 613. Dr. Patel examined Plaintiff on May 11, 2016. Id. 697-706. He found Plaintiff had lumbar lordosis with mildly restricted range of motion, had positive straight leg raising tests ...

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