United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
Bray United States Magistrate Judge
Andrew Saleeba appeals the Social Security Administration
Commissioner's final decision denying his application for
social security benefits. (D.E. 1.) This case was referred to
the magistrate judge for findings and recommendation pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). (D.E. 9.) Pending
before the court is Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment
(D.E. 7) and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary
Judgment. (D.E. 12.) Having carefully considered the motions,
filings, and applicable law, the court recommends that the
final decision of the Commissioner be affirmed.
applied for disability insurance benefits on March 6, 2014.
(Tr. 221- 29.) Saleeba claimed he was disabled due to bipolar
disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression, with an
alleged disability onset date of May 31, 2012. (Tr. 245.) The
Social Security Administration denied Saleeba's
application May 7, 2014, and Saleeba appealed. (Tr. 170-75.)
His application was denied upon reconsideration on August 25,
2014. (Tr. 177-79.)
requested a hearing on October 20, 2014 (Tr. 186-87), and
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Gary Suttles held a hearing on
July 8, 2016. (Tr. 37.) On August 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Saleeba not disabled. (Tr. 32.) Saleeba
filed the present complaint in federal court to appeal the
ALJ's decision. (D.E. 1.)
Social Security Act provides disability insurance benefits to
people who have contributed to the program and have a
physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C. §
423. It defines disability as the "inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment. . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months." See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner uses a sequential, five-step approach to
determine whether the claimant is disabled. The claimant
bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, but the
Commissioner bears the burden on the fifth step. Newton
v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000). A finding
that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in
the five-step review terminates the analysis. Johnson v.
Bowen, 851 F.2d 748, 751 (5th Cir. 1988).
one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is involved
in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b). A person who is working and engaging in
substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of
the medical findings. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d
123, 125 (5th Cir. 1991).
two, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant's
impairment is severe, irrespective of age, education, or work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). A person who does
not have a "severe impairment" is not disabled.
Wren, 925 F.2d at 125. An impairment is not severe
"only if it is a slight abnormality having such minimal
effect on the individual that it would not be expected to
interfere with the individual's ability to work,
irrespective of age, education or work experience."
Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir.
the ALJ finds that the claimant has any severe impairment,
the ALJ must determine, at step three, if the impairments
"meet or equal a listed impairment in appendix
1." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); see 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the Listings). If the
requirements of a Listing are met, the individual will be
considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).
impairments that do not meet or equal a listed impairment,
the ALJ must proceed to assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) "based on all the relevant
medical and other evidence." 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). An RFC assessment "is a determination of
the most the claimant can still do despite his physical and
mental limitations and is based on all relevant evidence in
the claimant's record." Perez v. Barnhart,
415 F.3d 457, 462 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
is used to determine whether the claimant can perform past
relevant work at step four. Id. If the claimant is
capable of performing the work the claimant has done in the
past, the claiman: is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f). If the ALJ finds that the claimant's RFC
precludes the claimant from performing past relevant work,
the ALJ must proceed to step five. 20 C.F.R. §
five, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform any
other work by considering the claimant's FLFC and other
factors, including age, education, and past work experience.
Substantial Evidence Standard of Review
court's "review of the ALJ's disability
determination is 'highly deferential': [it] ask[s]
only whether substantial evidence supports the decision and
whether the correct legal standards were employed."
Garcia v. Berryhill, 880 F.3d 700, 704 (5th Cir.
2018) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Substantial evidence exists if the record "yields such
evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the
conclusions reached by the ALJ." Loza v. Apfel,
219 F.3d 378, 393 (5th Cir. 2000). The court "does not
reweigh the evidence in the record, try the issues de
novo, or substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's, even if the evidence weighs against the
Commissioner's decision." Newton v. Apfel,
209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). "Conflicts in the
evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to
resolve." Id. "A decision is supported by
substantial evidence if credible evidentiary choices or
medical findings support the decision." Salmond v.
Berryhill, 892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal
quotations omitted). "Substantial evidence is more than
a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance."
Id. (internal quotations omitted). The reviewing
court is required to examine the record as a whole to
determine whether substantial evidence supported the
ALJ's decision. Randall v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d
105, 109 (5th Cir. 1992).
ALJ's Decision and Administrative Records
Saleeba's hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Saleeba,
his mother, and a vocational expert (VE). Saleeba testified
that he had previously worked as a valet (Tr. 49), waiter
(Tr. 49), and music tutor. (Tr. 43.) Saleeba testified that
he had been treated for schizophrenia, major depressive
disorder, and ADHD since 2011, when he began experiencing
hallucinations and delusional thoughts. (Tr. 45.)
testified about his history of drug use and rehabilitation.
(Tr. 46.) Saleeba testified that he saw a therapist every six
weeks. (Tr. 47.) He testified that, with his mother's
assistance, he had taken medication for five years that
helped him see clearly and prevented hallucinations or
delusions. (Tr. 50). He testified about his history of
hospitalization for mental health treatment. (Tr. 48.)
testified about his typical daily activities. (Tr. 54-56.) He
testified that in the first half of 2015, he discontinued one
of his medications, Resperidal, because it made him gain
weight. (Tr. 66-68.) He testified about certain incidents
reflected in his treatment records, such as drawing with a
marker on his arms, getting minor burns on his forearm,
thinking his family was occult, and experiencing a burning
sensation in his genitals. (Tr. 68-72.)
mother testified about instances of his son's delusional
or erratic behavior, such as thinking that the FBI was coming
to arrest him and his family. (Tr. 74-75.) She testified that
his daily activities consisted mostly of taking his
medication, eating, smoking cigarettes in the garage, and
taking naps. (Tr. 79-80.)
on the testimony and the SSA's consulting examiners'
reports, the ALJ asked the VE what kind of work, if any,
could be done given a residual functional capacity (RFC) with
no exertional impairments and the capacity to "get along
with others," "understand simple
instructions," "concentrate and perform simple
tasks," "respond and adapt to workplace changes and
supervision," and work in an environment with
"occasional" contact between the public and the
employee. (Tr. 86-87.) The VE testified that such a person
could find work as a small product assembler, office cleaner,
or hand packager. (Tr. 87.)
The ALJ's Decision
issued his decision on August 1, 2016. At step one, the ALJ
found that Saleeba had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 31, 2012. (Tr. 17.)
two, the ALJ found that Saleeba had severe impairments from
bipolar disorder and depression. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ found that
Saleeba's asthma, hypertension, obesity, and drug abuse
were non-severe. (Tr. 22.)
three, the ALJ found that none of Saleeba's impairments
was medically equivalent to a Listing. (Tr. 22.) Before
reaching steps four and five, the ALJ determined that Saleeba
had no physical ...