United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
ORDER ACCEPTING FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND
RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
O'CONNOR DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States Magistrate Judge made findings, conclusions,
and a recommendation in this case. See Findings,
Conclusions, and Recommendation (“FCR”), April
11, 2019, ECF No. 18. Plaintiff Germaine Antonio Baker filed
objections. See Pl.'s Obj. FCR, ECF No. 19. The
Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the
Commissioner's decision. The Court has conducted a de
novo review of those portions of the proposed findings and
recommendation to which the objections were made. The Court
finds that the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate
Judge are correct. Therefore, the FCR in this case (ECF No.
18) should be and is hereby ACCEPTED and
Plaintiff's objections are OVERRULED.
case involves the denial of a claim for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff
alleges that his disability began on October 15, 2012. SSA
Admin. R., ALJ Hr'g Decision, App. 12, ECF No. 13-1
[hereinafter, “ALJ Decision”]. Plaintiff filed an
application for disability insurance benefits on October 6,
2014. Id. The Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”) denied his
claim on January 9, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on
April 8, 2015. Id. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) J. Michael Brounoff conducted a hearing
on December 19, 2016, and issued a decision on September 15,
2017, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. FCR 1, ECF No. 18.
The ALJ applied the five-step analysis for determining
disability under 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. ALJ Decision, App.
13, ECF No.13-1. After evaluating medical opinions and
Plaintiff's impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to work in a variety of positions
nationwide. See id. at 17, 23.
review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits is
limited to whether the Commissioner's position is
supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Commissioner applied proper legal standards when evaluating
the evidence. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236
(5th Cir. 1994); 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(C)(3).
Substantial evidence is defined as more than a scintilla,
less than a preponderance, and as being such relevant and
sufficient evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Leggett v. Chater,
67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). When applying the
substantial evidence standard, the reviewing court does not
re-weigh the evidence, retry the issues, or substitute its
own judgment, but rather, scrutinizes the record to determine
whether substantial evidence is present. Greenspan,
38 F.3d at 236. A finding of no substantial evidence is
appropriate only if there is a conspicuous absence of
credible evidentiary choices or contrary medical findings to
support the Commissioner's decision. Johnson v.
Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). The
Commissioner, not the court, has the duty to weigh the
evidence, resolve material conflicts in the evidence, and
make credibility choices. Carrier v. Sullivan, 944
F.2d 243, 247 (5th Cir. 1991).
Social Security Administration uses a five-step process to
determine whether an individual is disabled. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The steps are followed in
order, and if at any step the Commissioner determines that
the claimant is disabled or not disabled, the evaluation does
not go on to the next step. Id. The five steps
consider: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) the medical severity of the
claimant's impairments; (3) whether the claimant's
medical impairment or combination of impairments meets or
medically equals the criteria listed in the Listing of
Impairments; (4) the claimant's residual functional
capacity and past relevant work; and (5) whether the
combination of the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience allow for
adjustments to be made to permit the claimant to work.
See id. If the impairment is severe but does not
meet or equal a listed mental impairment, then the
Commissioner must conduct a residual functional capacity
assessment. Id. § 404.1520a(d)(3).
ANALYSIS OF OBJECTIONS
the Commissioner's denial of his disability claims,
Plaintiff argues the Commissioner's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence. Pl.'s Obj. FCR 1-2,
ECF No. 19. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to
incorporate functional limitations stemming from the
impairments which the ALJ recognized to be severe and to give
due weight to medical opinion evidence, resulting in a flawed
RFC assessment. Id. Therefore, Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ's determination at step five, that work exists in
significant numbers that Plaintiff can perform, is not
supported by substantial evidence. Id.
Magistrate Judge recommended that the alleged error was
harmless. However, Plaintiff objects, arguing that the
ALJ's failure to evaluate Plaintiff's impairments
pursuant to the mandated psychiatric review technique
(“PRT”) cannot be harmless error. Id. at
defined as “the most [one] can still do despite
[his/her] limitations that affect what [he/she] can do in a
work setting.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). When
establishing a plaintiff's RFC, “an ALJ need not
explain in his or her written determination all
evidence contained in the record.” Ramirez v.
Colvin, No. 2:12-CV-262, 2014 WL 1293888, at *10 (N.D.
Tex. Mar. 28, 2014) (emphasis added). Accordingly, when
reviewing an ALJ's decision a court must determine
whether the ALJ supported his determination with substantial
evidence, and, if the ALJ failed to do so, determine whether
the error was harmless. Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d
446, 448-49 (5th Cir. 2007). Additionally, the Fifth Circuit
has held that “procedural defects in the agency process
are reversible error when the substantial rights of a party
have been affected.” McGehee v. Chater, No.
95-10499, 1996 WL 197435, at *3 (5th Cir. March 21, 1996).
Therefore, if the ALJ's decision is adequately supported
by the record, and reflects due consideration of
Plaintiff's condition, remand is unnecessary to correct
the procedural impediment. Id.
argues that the ALJ failed to incorporate the functional
limitations of his somatoform or personality disorder into
the RFC by failing to properly analyze them using the
mandated PRT. Id. at 2. Specifically, Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ did not address the degree of
functional limitations in the four “paragraph B”
criteria. Id. Plaintiff claims that having done so,
the ALJ's analysis would have resulted in a change in
Plaintiff's RFC and “may have resulted in a totally
different outcome.” Id. at 4.
objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the error
can be dismissed as harmless. Id. at 3. Plaintiff
contends that it is “sheer speculation to assume that
the [RFC] would not have changed had the ALJ considered the
effects of Plaintiff's ...