United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CHRISTINA A. BRYAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tameka Jones filed this case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the Social Security Act for review of the Commissioner's
final decision denying her request for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income under the Act. The
Commissioner and Jones moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. 11,
12, 13). After considering the pleadings, the record, and the
applicable law, the court GRANTS the
Commissioner's motion, DENIES Jones'
motion, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits.
Factual and Administrative History
filed a claim for social security disability insurance and
supplemental security income benefits on August 22, 2014
alleging a disability onset date of June 16, 2014 due to
lupus, arthritis, locking ankle joints, and swelling,
tingling, and numbness in her left leg and both of her feet.
(Dkt. 6-4 at 15-16; Dkt. 6-6 at 2-7; Dkt. 6-7 at 14, 36, 52).
Following the denial of her application and subsequent
request for reconsideration, Jones requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). A hearing took place on
March 7, 2017. The ALJ issued a decision on April 7, 2017,
finding that Jones was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (Dkt. 6-3 at 14-35). The
Appeals Council denied review on March 22, 2018 (Dkt. 6-3 at
2-7), and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§
Standard for District Court Review of the Commissioner's
Section 405(g) of the Act governs the standard of review in
social security disability cases. Waters v.
Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002).
Federal court review of the Commissioner's final decision
to deny Social Security benefits is limited to two inquiries:
(1) whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal
standard; and (2) whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Copeland v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014);
Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693 (5th
respect to all decisions other than conclusions of law,
“[i]f the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be
affirmed.” Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457,
461 (5th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence
is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236
(5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence
has also been defined as “more than a mere scintilla
and less than a preponderance.” Masterson v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000)). When reviewing the
Commissioner's decision, the court does not reweigh the
evidence, try the questions de novo, or substitute
its own judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. Conflicts in the
evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts.
Id. The courts strive for judicial review that is
“deferential without being so obsequious as to be
meaningless.” Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492,
496 (5th Cir. 1999).
court weighs four types of evidence in the record when
determining whether 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) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126
(5thCir.1991); Hamilton-Provost v.
Colvin, 605 Fed.Appx. 233, 236 (5th Cir.
Disability Determination Standards
must follow a five-step sequential analysis to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Waters, 276 F.3d at 718. The
Social Security Act defines “disability” as the
“inability 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.”
Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618
(5th Cir. 1990) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A)). A finding at any point in the five-step
sequence that the claimant is disabled, or is not disabled,
ends the analysis. Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55,
58 (5th Cir. 1987).
first step, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is currently
working or “engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” Work is “substantial” if it
involves doing significant physical or mental activities, and
“gainful” if it is the kind of work usually done
for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572, 416.972;
Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 924
(5th Cir. 2014).
second step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has
a severe impairment. Under applicable regulations, an
impairment is severe if it “significantly limits your
physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.20(c). Under Fifth Circuit binding precedent, “[a]n
impairment can be considered as 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.” Loza v. Apfel,
219 F.3d 378, 391 (5th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added)
(quoting Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th
Cir. 1985)). “Re-stated, an impairment is severe if it
is anything more than a “slight abnormality” that
“would not be expected to interfere” with a
claimant's ability to work. Id. This second step
requires the claimant to make a de minimis showing.
See Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 293 n.5
(5th Cir. 1992); Salmond v. Berryhill,
892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018).
claimant is found to have a severe impairment, the ALJ
proceeds to the third step of the sequential analysis:
whether the severe impairment meets or medically equals one
of the listings in the regulation known as Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the impairment
meets one of the listings in Appendix 1, the claimant is
disabled. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's symptoms
do not meet any listed impairment, the sequential analysis
continues to the fourth step.
four, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant can still
perform her past relevant work by determining the
claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(RFC). “The RFC is the individual's ability to do
physical and mental tasks on a sustained basis despite
limitations from her impairments.” Giles v.
Astrue, 433 Fed.Appx. 241, 245 (5th Cir.
2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. 404.1545). The ALJ must base the RFC
determination on the record as a whole and must consider all
of a claimant's impairments, including those that are not
severe. Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) and
404.1545; see also Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019,
1023-24 (5th Cir. 1990).
claimant bears the burden to prove disability at steps one
through four, meaning the claimant must prove she is not
currently working and is no longer capable of performing her
past relevant work. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448,
453 (5th Cir. 2000). If the claimant meets her
burden, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to
show that the “claimant is capable of engaging in some
type of alternative work that exists in the national
economy.” Id. Thus, in order for the
Commissioner to find in step five that the claimant is not
disabled, the record must contain evidence demonstrating that
other work exists in significant ...