United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Wichita Falls Division
GUY N. GOREE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ACCEPTING FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND
RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
O'CONNOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States Magistrate Judge made findings, conclusions,
and a recommendation in this case. See Findings,
Conclusions, and Recommendation [hereinafter, the
“FCR”], ECF No. 17. Plaintiff Guy Goree filed
objections. See Pl.'s Obj., ECF No. 18. The
Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court affirm the
Commissioner's decision. The Court conducted de novo
review of those portions of the proposed findings and
recommendation to which objections were made. The Court finds
that the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are
correct. Therefore, Plaintiff's objections are
OVERRULED and the Magistrate's findings
and conclusions are ADOPTED as the findings
and conclusions of the Court.
case involves the denial of disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Plaintiff initially alleged his
disability began on January 1, 2013. Admin. Rec. 189, ECF No.
13-1. Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI on March 31, 2015.
Id. The Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) denied
Plaintiff's application for benefits on July 22, 2015,
and denied the application again on reconsideration on
November 3, 2015. Id. at 19. Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ') Douglas S. Stults held a hearing on
July 27, 2016. Id. At the hearing, Plaintiff
requested that his alleged disability onset date be amended
to May 2, 2014. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not disabled in a decision issued on May 22, 2017.
Id. at 19- 33. The ALJ applied the five-step
analysis for determining disability articulated in 20 CFR
§ 404.1520. Id. at 21-32. The ALJ found that
the state medical examiners' opinions were supported by
the evidence as a whole. Id. at 31. On the fifth
step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could adjust to a
significant number of jobs nationwide based upon the
testimony of a vocational expert. Id. at 32-33.
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 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. §
ANALYSIS OF OBJECTIONS
challenges the Commissioner's denial of his disability
claims, the ALJ's determination, and the Magistrate
Judge's findings, arguing that the ALJ's residual
functioning capacity (“RFC”) finding is not
supported by any medical opinion of record and not supported
by substantial evidence. Pl.'s Obj., ECF No. 18.
argues that: (1) the ALJ's RFC finding was not based on
any medical assessment of record; (2) “the ALJ
improperly inferred Plaintiff's RFC based on his own
interpretation of the medical records without the assistance
of an examining or treating physician”; and (3) the ALJ
should have requested an updated medical source statement
describing types of work Plaintiff could perform.
Id. at 2-4.
argues that if the ALJ did not rely upon the opinions of Drs.
O'Callaghan, Rowley, and Herman, then the RFC finding is
not based on any medical evidence of record
(“MER”). Pl.'s Obj. 2, ECF No. 18. But the
record indicates that the ALJ did rely on the
opinions of Drs. O'Callaghan, Rowley, and Herman-just not
solely. Admin. Rec. 31, ECF No. 13-1. An ALJ cannot derive a
claimant's RFC without opinions from medical experts.
Williams v. Astrue, 355 Fed.Appx. 828, 832 (5th Cir.
2009). Because the ALJ did rely on the opinions of the state
medical examiners, the ALJ's decision was properly based
on a medical assessment of record.
Plaintiff argues that if the RFC finding is based on the
opinions of Drs. O'Callaghan, Rowley, and Herman, then
Washington v. Berryhill is controlling. Pl.'s
Obj. 3, ECF No. 18; see Washington v. Berryhill,
3:17-CV-0001-BK, 2017 WL 4422404, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 5,
2017). In Washington, an ALJ's opinion was
reversed and remanded for “essentially adopting”
a state disability examiner's two-year-old assessment
despite circumstances changing significantly in the meantime.
Washington v. Berryhill, 3:17-CV-0001-BK, 2017 WL
4422404, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 5, 2017). Plaintiff
underscores that the opinions of Drs. O'Callaghan,
Rowley, and Herman were based upon an incomplete record and
rendered nearly two years before the ALJ's decision.
Id. But, the ALJ did not “essentially
adopt” the opinion of Drs. O'Callaghan, Rowley and
Herman. Rather, the ALJ found Goree had limitations that Drs.
O'Callaghan, Rowley, and Herman did not find. Admin. Rec.
189, 216, 230, ECF No. 13-1. And unlike Washington,
there were not significantly changed circumstances in the
record. As the Magistrate Judge noted, substantial evidence
in the record supported the opinions of the state medical
examiners. FCR 11, ECF No. 17. The ALJ's RFC finding
differed from the state disability examiners' opinions.
Id. Furthermore, the ALJ did not rely solely on the
state disability examiners' opinions. Id. The
ALJ also relied on Drs. Miller, Nadoo, and Smith's
opinions in assessing Goree's RFC. Admin. Rec. 29-31, ECF
analyzing Plaintiff's argument that the state medical
examiners did not have a complete MER at the time of their
assessments, the Magistrate Judge noted substantial evidence
in the record justified their opinions. FCR 11, ECF No. 17.
Such evidence included Goree's testimony and the MER.
Admin. Rec. 157-173, 636, 697, 737, 789, ECF No. 13-1. An ALJ
cannot determine their own medical conclusions from some of
the data without relying on a medical expert's help.
Frank v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 618, 621-22 (5th Cir.
2003). The substantial evidence in the record supporting the