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Sean G. v. Berryhill

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

February 28, 2019

SEAN G., [1]Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          E. COTT FROST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the plaintiff seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI 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

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on February 28, 2014 and an application for DIB on April 7 of the same year, alleging impairments that were disabling as of September 11, 2013. That application was denied initially and after reconsideration. The plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge on September 14, 2015. The ALJ issued a decision on February 2, 2017 finding him not disabled.

         Specifically, the ALJ found during step one that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset date. (Doc. 16-1, 57). At step two, the ALJ found that he had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, multiple sclerosis, anxiety, depression, lumbar spondylosis, chronic urinary retention, and fibromyalgia. (Doc. 16-1, 57). In the third step, the ALJ found those severe impairments did not meet and were not the equivalent of any listed impairments. (Doc. 16-1, 57). The step three analysis continued with the ALJ determining the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with some limitations. (Doc. 16-1, 59). The ALJ determined that the plaintiff could not return to any past relevant work, but that there were jobs the claimant could perform. (Doc. 16-1, 67-68). The ALJ therefore determined he was not under a disability between the alleged onset date and the date the decision was issued. (Doc. 16-1, 69).

         The plaintiff then applied to the Appeals Council, which denied review on November 27, 2017. 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, the plaintiff was 46 and living with his wife and four children at the time of the administrative hearing. He has some college education and work history as a truck driver. He believes his physical and mental impairments render him disabled under the Act.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled if they are 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. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. § 4O4.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. Astrye, 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 [they are] 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. Barnhart, 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. Barnhart, 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. Bamhart, 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. Berates, 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

         The plaintiff alleges the RFC assessed by the ALJ is inconsistent with limitations from impairments she ...


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