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Parrott v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division

June 24, 2019




         On, October 3, 2017, Plaintiff initiated this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application for Social Security benefits. (Doc. No. 1.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to the undersigned to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in this case. (Doc. No. 17, at 1-2.) For the reasons stated below, the Court REMANDS this case to the Commissioner pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         On July 24, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”), alleging disability beginning July 1, 2009. (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 56, 291-303). The claims were denied initially on October 29, 2013 and upon reconsideration on June 5, 2014. Id. at 122, 132. Plaintiff sought review of the denial at an administrative hearing. Id. at 141. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 27, 2016 and Plaintiff again sought review. Id. at 15-31. On June 13, 2017 Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at 1. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). Plaintiff has filed this instant action for review.


         Title II of the Act provides for federal disability insurance benefits. Title XVI of the Act provides for supplemental security income. Judicial review of the denial of disability benefits under section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is limited to “determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the proper legal standards were used in evaluating the evidence.” Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990)); Muse v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991) (per curiam). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices or no contrary medical evidence. Homan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 84 F.Supp.2d 814, 818 (E.D. Tex. 2000). Accordingly, the Court “may not reweigh the evidence in the record, nor try the issues de novo, ” and is not allowed to substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's judgment. Id. (quoting Bowling, 36 F.3d at 435). Rather, conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to decide. Id. (citing Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993)); see Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). A decision on the ultimate issue of whether a claimant is disabled, as defined in the Act, rests with the Commissioner. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455-56 (5th Cir. 2000); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (July 2, 1996).

         “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance-that is, enough that a reasonable mind would judge it sufficient to support the decision.” Brown v. Astrue, 344 Fed.Appx. 16, 18-19 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Pena v. Astrue, 271 Fed.Appx. 382, 383 (5th Cir. 2003)). Substantial evidence includes four factors: (1) objective medical facts or clinical findings; (2) diagnoses of examining physicians; (3) subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) the plaintiff's age, education, and work history. Id. at 19 (citing Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1302 n.4 (5th Cir. 1987)). However, the Court must do more than “rubber stamp” a decision by the ALJ, it must “scrutinize the record and take into account whatever fairly detracts from the substantiality of evidence supporting the [Commissioner]'s findings.” Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation omitted).

         Claimant has the burden for proving disability. Id. (citing Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th Cir. 1991)). A disability is an “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 can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner uses a five step sequential process to determine if the claimant is disabled, and finding “disabled” or “not disabled” at any step of the sequential process ends the inquiry. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990). Step One determines whether the claimant is actually engaged in any “substantial gainful activity.” At Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimed physical and/or mental impairments are “severe.” At Step Three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equal one of the listings in Appendix I. This step also involves determining the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), or the most that the claimant can do given his impairments, both severe and non-severe. Step Four determines whether the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work. Finally, Step Five determines whether the claimant can perform other work available in the local or national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(f), 416.920(b)-(f). An affirmative answer at Step One or negative answer at Steps Two, Four, or Five results in a finding of “not disabled.” Villa, 895 F.2d at 1022. An affirmative answer at Step Three, or an affirmative answer at Steps Four and Five, creates a presumption of disability. Id. The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps, but shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five if the claimant shows that he cannot perform his past relevant work. Anderson v. Sullivan, 887 F.2d 630, 632-33 (5th Cir. 1989) (per curiam).


         The ALJ made the following findings in his June 27, 2016 decision:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following “severe” physical and mental impairments: history of bladder cancer; bipolar disorder; major depression; anxiety disorder; borderline personality disorder; and polysubstance abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 419.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), ...

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