United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
PHYLLIS R. Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
REBECCA RUTHERFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
filed a civil action seeking judicial review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final adverse decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security. 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 district
court should AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.
alleges she is disabled due to a variety of ailments,
including osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease,
Morton's neuroma, osteoporosis, colitis, chronic
constipation, anxiety, memory problems, and chronic fatigue
syndrome. Administrative Record (“A.R.”) 25-26,
223 (ECF No. 7-1). After her application for disability
insurance benefits was denied initially and on
reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Id.
37. That hearing took place on March 7, 2017, and resulted in
a decision denying disability benefits. Id. 23-33.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 59 years old.
See Id. 75. She has more than a high school
education and is able to communicate in English. Id.
31. Plaintiff has past work experience as a chiropractor.
one of the five-step sequential evaluation,  the ALJ found
that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from March 1, 2011, her alleged onset date,
through December 31, 2012, her date last insured.
Id. 25. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease of
the knees, and anxiety were severe impairments, but that she
did not have an impairment, or combination of impairments,
that met or medically equaled the severity of any impairment
listed in the social security regulations. Id.
25-27. The ALJ further found Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) for a limited range
of medium work. Id. 27. At step four, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past work.
Id. 31. At step five, relying on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could work as
a hospital cleaner, a linen room attendant, and a dining room
attendant- jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id. 32.
appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council.
Id. 15-16. The Council affirmed. Id. 4-7.
Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court in
which she argues the ALJ's decision results from an error
of law and is not supported by substantial evidence.
Pl.'s Compl. 2, ¶ 8 (ECF No. 1).
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) (citing Greenspan v. Shalala, 38
F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994)). 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)).
challenges the ALJ's decision that she was not disabled
during the alleged period of disability as arbitrary and
capricious and not supported by substantial evidence.
“When determining the propriety of a decision of
‘not disabled,' [the] court's function is to
ascertain whether the record considered as a whole contains
substantial evidence that supports the final decision of the
Commissioner, as trier of fact.” Shaw v.
Astrue, 2010 WL 5101404, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 8, 2010)
(Fitzwater, C.J.). The Court considers the following elements
to determine if there is substantial evidence of disability:
(1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of
treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's
subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) age,
education, and work history. Martinez, 64 F.3d at
174 (citing Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126 (5th
Cir. 1991)). “The ALJ has a duty to develop the facts
fully and fairly relating to an applicant's claim for
disability benefits.” Ripley, 67 F.3d at 557
(citing Pierre v. Sullivan, 884 F.2d 799, 802 (5th
Cir. 1989); Kane v. Heckler, 731 F.2d 1216, 1219
(5th Cir. 1984)). “If the ALJ does not satisfy [this]
duty, [the] decision is not substantially justified.”
Id. (citing Kane, 731 F.2d at 1219).
Reversal of the ALJ's decision is appropriate, however,
“only if the applicant shows that [she] was
prejudiced.” Id. (citing Kane, 731
F.2d at 1220). A procedurally imperfect administrative ruling
does not warrant reversal unless a party's substantive
rights have been prejudiced. Smith v. Chater, 962
F.Supp. 980, 984 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 15, 1997) (Fitzwater, J.).
contends the ALJ should have found she was disabled during
the relevant period due to problems with her knees and feet,
osteoporosis, degenerative joint disease, colitis, chronic
constipation, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Plaintiff claims that her symptoms and limitations from these
alleged impairments prevent her from walking more than 120
feet without pain, from sitting, standing, or laying down for
an extended period, or from leaving home and require her to
remain close to a bathroom. However, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period and
could perform medium work, which includes the ability to sit,
stand, and/or walk for six hours in an 8-hour day, to lift
and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently,
and to perform detailed, but not complex, tasks. A.R. 27.
argues, without elaboration, that the ALJ did not consider
the totality of her alleged conditions. But, the ALJ's
thorough and well-reasoned, written decision establishes the
opposite. A.R. 27-31. The ALJ discussed in detail all of
Plaintiff's alleged impairments, and the combined effect
of those alleged impairments, on her ability to do
work-related activities. Id. 28. The Court has
reviewed the objective medical evidence and opinion evidence
of record, as well as Plaintiff's own statements
regarding her symptoms and limitations, and finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC assessment
and disability determination.
the objective medical evidence shows that Plaintiff received
treatment for knee problems prior to her alleged onset date
and during the alleged period of disability, including
injections for pain and swelling, and that such treatment
helped her symptoms. Further, physical examinations of her
knee during the alleged period of disability showed she had
good extension, range of motion, and stability. A.R. 631-632,
hearing, Plaintiff testified that pain and other symptoms
resulting from colitis, chronic constipation, and chronic
fatigue syndrome limited her ability to work. A.R. 84-85, 90,
92-94. However, the ALJ declined to find that any of these
conditions constituted a medically determinable impairment