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Ramona L. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 22, 2019

Ramona L., Plaintiff,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER UNITED-STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Special Order 3, the Court has considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Doc. 14; Doc. 15. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment should be GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment should be DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision should be AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging that she had been disabled since her amended onset date (“AOD”) of December 12, 2015, due to lupus, diabetes mellitus, neuropathy, acute arthritis, depressive disorder, acute bronchitis, neck pain, dermatomycosis unspecified, edema of lower extremity, and otitis externa. Doc. 11-1 at 47-48; Doc. 11-1 at 229. Because Plaintiff's date last insured (“DLI”) was December 31, 2015, Doc. 11-1 at 42-43, the period under consideration for purposes of her DIB application is from December 12 through December 31, 2015. See Shields v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 6:08-CV-00484-MHS-JKG, 2008 WL 8141300, at *9 (E.D. Tex. Dec. 16, 2008) (holding that a claimant must demonstrate that she was disabled between her alleged onset date and her DLI) (citing Brown v. Astrue, 344 Fed.Appx. 16, 20 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam)). Plaintiff's claim was denied at all administrative levels, and she now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Doc. 11-1 at 6; Doc. 11-1 at 10-14; Doc. 11-1 at 23-33; Doc. 11-1 at 88-93; Doc. 11-1 at 96-98; Doc. 11-1 at 105-08.

         B. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was 47 years old when the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) rendered his decision. Doc. 11-1 at 33, 49. She had an associate degree, certification as a manicurist, and past relevant work experience as a nail technician, laundry worker, and explosives operator. Doc. 11-1 at 49-50, 54-56. In terms of Plaintiff's pertinent medical history, the evidence indicates that she had been treated intermittently just prior to and immediately after her DLI for diabetes mellitus, benign hypertension, nausea, recurrent urinary tract infections, dehydration, dizziness, migraine headaches, edema in all extremities, joint pain, and recently diagnosed fibromyalgia and lupus. Doc. 11-3 at 281-83; Doc. 11-3 at 291; Doc. 11-3 at 353, 358; Doc. 11-3 at 371, 373, 379; Doc. 11-3 at 473, 476.

         C. The ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ held that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus, and leukopenia, but that the impairments did not meet or equal the severity of any of the listed impairments. Doc. 11-1 at 28-29. Further, the ALJ found that, through Plaintiff's DLI, she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work. Doc. 11-1 at 29. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work and was thus not disabled between her AOD of December 12, 2015 through her DLI of December 31, 2015. Doc. 11-1 at 32-33.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         An individual is disabled under the Act if, inter alia, she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment” which has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner uses the following sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled: (1) an individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled; (2) an individual who does not have a “severe impairment” is not disabled; (3) an individual who “meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1” of the regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors; (4) if an individual is capable of performing her past work, a finding of “not disabled” must be made; (5) if an individual's impairment precludes her from performing her past work, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and RFC must be considered to determine if any other work can be performed. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (summarizing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(f), 416.920(b-(f)).

         Under the first four steps of the analysis, the burden of proof lies with the claimant. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). The analysis terminates if the Commissioner determines at any point during the first four steps that the claimant is disabled or is not disabled. Id. If the claimant satisfies her burden under the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that there is other gainful employment available in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). This burden may be satisfied either by reference to the Grid Rules, vocational expert testimony, or other similar evidence. Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1304 (5th Cir. 1987).

         Judicial 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 in evaluating the evidence. Greenspan, 38 F.3d at 236; 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(C)(3). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant and sufficient evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Leggett, 67 F.3d at 564. Under this standard, the reviewing court does not reweigh 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.

         In considering the parties' summary judgment arguments, the Court has relied upon their assessment of and citation to the evidence of record. The Court is not under any obligation to probe the record to find supporting evidence for one side or the other. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (the movant and opponent of a motion for summary judgment must support their positions by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record”); Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006) (the court has no obligation ...


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