United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. LOVE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
14, 2018 Tonya Kaye Hill (“Plaintiff”) initiated
this civil action pursuant to the 42 U.S.C. § 205(g) for
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. 13, at 1-2.) For the reasons stated below, the
Court REVERSES and REMANDS
this case to the Commissioner pursuant to the fourth sentence
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
7, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for
social security benefits, and on July 16, 2015, Plaintiff
protectively filed an application for supplemental security
income. See Transcript (“Tr.”) at
103-04, 220-29. The applications alleged a disability
beginning October 1, 2014. Id. at 222, 224. The
claim was initially denied on November 25, 2015, and upon
reconsideration on March 10, 2016. Id. at 151-56,
160-63. Plaintiff sought review of the denial at an
administrative hearing and had a video hearing on February
13, 2017. Id. at 35-63. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on May 11, 2017. Id. at 10-22.
Plaintiff sought review, and on March 13, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
Id. at 1-6. 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
the instant action for review.
II provides for federal disability insurance benefits and
Title XVI provides for supplemental security income for the
disabled. 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, 435 (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. Johnson v. Bowen,
864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Hames v.
Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)).
Accordingly, the Court “may not reweigh the evidence in
the record, nor try the issues de novo, nor
substitute [the Court's] judgment for the
[Commissioner]'s, even if the evidence preponderates
against the [Commissioner]'s decision.”
Bowling, 36 F.3d at 435 (quoting Harrell v.
Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988)); see
Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993);
Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir.
1992); Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir.
1985). Rather, conflicts in the evidence are for the
Commissioner to decide. Spellman, 1 F.3d 357, 360
(5th Cir. 1993) (citing Selders v. Sullivan, 914
F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)); Anthony, 954 F.2d
289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing Patton v.
Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983)). 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, 61 Fed. Reg. 34471 (July 2, 1996).
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.” Pena
v. Astrue, 271 Fed.Appx. 382, 383 (5th Cir. 2003)
(citing Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 162 (5th Cir.
1994)). 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. Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1302
n.4 (5th Cir. 1987). If supported by substantial evidence,
the decision of the Commissioner is conclusive and must be
affirmed. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390
(1971). However, the Court must do more than “rubber
stamp” the ALJ's decision; the Court 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).
claimant for disability has the burden of proving a
disability. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th
Cir. 1991). The Act defines “disability” as 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). A “physical or mental
impairment” is an anatomical, physiological, or
psychological abnormality which is demonstrable by acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the
Commissioner must utilize a five-step, sequential process.
Villa, 895 F.2d at 1022. A finding of
“disabled” or “not disabled” at any
step of the sequential process ends the inquiry.
Id.; see Bowling, 36 F.3d at 435 (citing
Harrell, 862 F.2d at 475). Under the five-step
sequential analysis, the Commissioner must determine at Step
One whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity. At Step Two, the Commissioner must
determine whether one or more of the claimant's
impairments are severe. At Step Three, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant has an impairment or
combination of impairments that meet or equal one of the
listings in Appendix I. Prior to moving to Step Four, the
Commissioner must determine the claimant's Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”), or the most that the
claimant can do given his impairments, both severe and
non-severe. Then, at Step Four, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant's impairments are severe
enough to prevent him from performing his past relevant work.
Finally, at Step Five, the Commissioner must determine
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 a negative answer at Steps Two, Four, or Five
results in a finding of “not disabled.” See
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
LAW JUDGE'S FINDINGS
made the following findings in her May 11, 2017 decision:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 1, 2014, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: plantar
fasciitis and bone spurs on the feet; degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease; hypertension; recurrent edema; obesity; anxiety
disorder; and ...