United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Wichita Falls Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
RAY, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Shania Nellie Pruett (“Pruett”) filed this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the
denial by the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) of her
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“SSA”). (ECF No. 1). After considering the
pleadings, briefs, and administrative record, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS that United States District Judge
Reed O'Connor REVERSE the
Commissioner's decision and REMAND this
action for further proceedings.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed her application for SSI on December 30, 2014, alleging
a disability onset date of November 8, 1996. (Transcript
(“Tr.”) 77, 84-85, 94, 185-190). The Commissioner
denied her application for benefits on February 26, 2015,
(Tr. 77-83), and June 12, 2015, (Tr. 85-93), for insufficient
evidence and denied her application upon reconsideration on
June 16, 2015, (Tr. 108- 10). Pruett requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), (Tr.
114-16), and a hearing was held by videoconference before an
ALJ in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on August 24, 2017 (Tr.
48-76). An attorney represented Pruett at the hearing.
(Id.). Vocational Expert (“VE”) Clifton
King testified at the hearing. (Id.). The ALJ issued
a decision on October 26, 2017, finding that Pruett was not
disabled under the SSA and, therefore, not entitled to SSI.
decision, the ALJ employed the statutory five-step analysis.
At step one, the ALJ found that Pruett had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the filing of her
application for SSI. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). At step two, the
ALJ found that Pruett had the severe impairments of
intellectual disability and major depressive disorder with
mixed bipolar and anxiety. (Tr. 17, Finding 2). At step
three, the ALJ found that Pruett's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404(P)(1). (Tr. 17, Finding 3). The ALJ, therefore,
determined that Pruett had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform:
a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: The hypothetical
individual would be able to understand, remember, comprehend,
and carry out simple work related skills and tasks. The
hypothetical individual can work with supervisors and
coworkers on a superficial basis. The hypothetical individual
cannot work with the public. The hypothetical individual can
adapt to routine change in the working environment.
(Tr. 19, Finding 4). At step four, with this RFC, the ALJ
found that Pruett had no past relevant work. (Tr. 26, Finding
5). At step five, after considering the VE's testimony
and Pruett's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
the ALJ determined that there were a significant number of
jobs in the national economy that she could have performed.
(Tr. 27, Finding 9). Thus, the ALJ ruled Pruett had not been
disabled since December 30, 2014, the date the application
was filed. (Tr. 27, Finding 10).
Appeals Council denied Pruett's request for review on
June 12, 2018. (Tr. 1-6). Therefore, the ALJ's decision
became the Commissioner's final decision and is properly
before the Court for review. See Higginbotham v.
Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir. 2005)
(“[T]he Commissioner's final decision includes the
Appeals Council's denial of a request for
to Pruett's pleadings, testimony at the administrative
hearing, and the administrative record, she was 20 years old
at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 51). She
completed the eleventh grade in a special education program.
(Tr. 51, 255-261, 290). She has virtually no employment
history. (Tr. 54-55, 290).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
security income benefits are governed by Title XVI, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381 et seq., of the SSA. In addition,
numerous regulatory provisions govern SSI benefits.
See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 416. The SSA defines a disability
as an “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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); McQueen v.
Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 154 (5th Cir. 1999).
determine whether a claimant is disabled and thus entitled to
disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a five-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). For step one, the claimant must not be
presently working at any substantial gainful activity to
obtain disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial gainful activity”
means work activity involving the use of significant physical
or mental abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1572; Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271
n.2 (5th Cir. 2002). For step two, the claimant must have an
impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); see also Stone v.
Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1100-03 (5th Cir. 1985). For
step three, disability exists if the impairment or
combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment
listed in the Listing of Impairments (“Listing”)
found in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(d). Before proceeding to step four, the
Commissioner must assess the claimant's RFC-“the
most the claimant can still do despite his physical and
mental limitations.” Perez v. Barnhart, 415
F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. §
416.945(a)(1). For step four, if the claimant's medical
status alone does not constitute a disability, the impairment
must prevent the claimant from returning to her past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). For step five, the
impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any work,
considering the claimant's RFC, age, education, and past
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f); Crowley v.
Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197-98 (5th Cir. 1999). “The
claimant bears the burden of showing she is 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 v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 2007).
“If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant
must then prove [she] in fact cannot perform the alternate
work.” Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 135 (5th
Cir. 2000) (quoting Crowley, 197 F.3d at 198).
Court's decision is limited to a determination of whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and
whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the decision. Audler, 501 F.3d at 447;
Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995).
“Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
responsible mind might accept to support a conclusion. It is
more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance. A
finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no
credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the
decision.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704
(5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d
413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000)). The Court may neither reweigh the
evidence in the record nor substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's, but it will carefully scrutinize the
record to determine if evidence is present. Hollis v.
Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988);
Harris, 209 F.3d at 417. “Conflicts in the
evidence are for the [Commissioner] and not the courts to
resolve.” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d
492, 496 (5th Cir. 1999)).
raises three issues on appeal. She claims that the ALJ erred
(1) in finding that her impairments did not meet or equal
section 12.05B of the Listing, (ECF No. 12 at 2, 4-9); (2) by
failing to properly consider Pruett's functional
limitations in determining her RFC, (Id. at 3, 9-
12); and ...