United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
DAWN M. MCHUGH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Dawn M. McHugh (“McHugh”) 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 disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”). (ECF No. 1). Pursuant to the consent of
the parties and the order of reassignment dated December 17,
2018, the case has been transferred to the undersigned for
the conduct of all further proceedings and the entry of
judgment. (ECF No. 14). After considering the pleadings,
briefs, and the administrative record, the Court
AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
filed an application for DIB on July 27, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of July 13, 2011. (Transcript
(“Tr.”) 51, 68, 133). The Commissioner initially
denied the application for benefits on October 22, 2015, (Tr.
61), and denied upon reconsideration on January 12, 2016 (Tr.
73). McHugh requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), (Tr. 85-86), and a hearing was
held before an ALJ in Dallas, Texas on March 6, 2017 (Tr.
29-50). An attorney represented McHugh at the hearing, and a
Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified at the
hearing. (Id.). During the hearing, McHugh amended
her alleged disability onset date to June 21, 2013. (Tr. 33).
The ALJ issued a decision on August 29, 2017, finding McHugh
not disabled from June 21, 2013 through December 31, 2015,
the last date insured. (Tr. 23).
decision, the ALJ employed the statutory five-step analysis.
At step one, the ALJ found that McHugh had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 21, 2013, the alleged
disability onset date, through December 31, 2015, the date
last insured. (Tr. 17, Finding 2). At step two, the ALJ found
that McHugh had the severe impairments of erythromelalgia
(“EM”) and acute gastritis. (Tr. 17, Finding 3).
EM is a condition characterized by episodes of pain, redness
and swelling in various parts of the body, particularly the
hands and feet. Genetics Home Reference:
Insts. of Health
visited June 4, 2019). At step three, the ALJ found that
McHugh'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, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. 17-18, Finding 4). The ALJ, therefore, determined that
McHugh had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform “at least light work . .
. . The claimant can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit, stand[, ] and/or walk
for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.” (Tr. 18, Finding 5).
At step four, with this RFC, the ALJ found that McHugh was
capable of performing past relevant work as a customer
service representative. (Tr. 22, Finding 6). Thus, the ALJ
ruled McHugh had not been disabled from July 21, 2013 through
December 31, 2015. (Tr. 23).
Appeals Council denied McHugh's request for review on
July 10, 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 McHugh's pleadings, testimony at the administrative
hearing, and the administrative record, McHugh was 50 years
old on the alleged disability onset date and 53 years, 11
months old at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr.
29, 33). She completed a high-school education. (Tr. 180).
Her employment history included work as a customer service
representative. (Tr. 33, 254). McHugh asserts that her
physical impairments render her disabled under the SSA. (Tr.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
II, 42 U.S.C. § 404 et seq., of the SSA governs
the disability insurance program in addition to numerous
regulations concerning disability insurance. See 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404. The SSA defines a disability as a
“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” that
prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful
activity. 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 sequential
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the
claimant must not be presently working at any substantial
gainful activity. 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. Masterson v. Barnhart,
309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527. Second, the claimant must have an impairment or
combination of impairments that is severe. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c); see Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099,
1100- 03 (5th Cir. 1985). Third, disability exists if the
impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an
impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments
(“Listing”), 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if the claimant's
medical status alone does not constitute a disability, the
impairment or impairments must prevent the claimant from
returning to her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Fifth, the impairment must prevent the claimant
from doing any work, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and past work experience. Crowley v.
Apfel, 197 F.3d 197, 197-98 (5th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f). “The claimant bears the burden of
showing that [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). Before
proceeding to steps four and five, the Commissioner must
assess a claimant's RFC-“the most [a claimant] can
still do despite [her] limitations.” Perez v.
Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R.
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. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d
558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995); Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d
1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). “Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a responsible mind might accept to
support a conclusion.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001). “It is more than a mere
scintilla and less than a preponderance.” Id.
“A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate
only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings
support the decision.” Id. 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.
Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000);
Hollis, 837 F.2d at 1383. “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 Selders v. Sullivan, 914
F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)).
raises one issue on appeal with several sub issues. She
claims that the ALJ's RFC finding is not supported by
substantial evidence. (ECF No. 17). Specifically, McHugh
alleges that the ALJ failed to account for her disabling pain
and fatigue in establishing her RFC limitations.
(Id. at 8-9). The Commissioner contends that the ALJ
properly considered the objective ...