United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Christina A. Bryan United States Magistrate Judge
Earl Reece filed this case under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the Social Security Act for review of the Commissioner's
final decision denying his request for supplemental security
income benefits under the Act. The Commissioner and Reece
moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. 13, 14, 16, 17). The
Commissioner responded (Dkt. 20), and in accordance with the
court's June 20, 2019 Order (Dkt. 21), both parties filed
supplemental briefing. (Dkts. 22, 23). After considering the
pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the court
GRANTS Reece's motion,
DENIES the Commissioner's motion, and
REMANDS this case for further proceedings
consistent with this Memorandum and Order.
Factual and Administrative History
filed a claim for supplemental security income benefits on
April 21, 2015 alleging a disability onset date of March 10,
2015 due to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, a broken
hip, gout, hypertension, short term memory issues, and
depression. (Dkt. 9-4 at 2). Following the denial of his
application and subsequent request for reconsideration, Reece
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
At the hearing, which took place on June 16, 2017, Reece
amended his alleged onset date to April 21, 2015. (Dkt. 9-3
at 22, 37; Dkt. 9-5 at 70). The ALJ issued a decision on
August 25, 2017, finding that Reece was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Dkt. 9-3 at
22-28). The Appeals Council denied review on May 15, 2018
(Dkt. 9-3 at 2-6), and the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Standard for District Court Review of the Commissioner's
405(g) of the Act governs the standard of review in social
security disability cases. Waters v. Barnhart, 276
F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002). Federal court review of the
Commissioner's final decision to deny Social Security
benefits is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standard; and (2)
whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d
920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014); Stockman v. Apfel, 174
F.3d 692, 693 (5th Cir. 1999).
respect to all decisions other than conclusions of law,
“[i]f the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence, they are conclusive.” Perez
v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005).
“Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Greenspan v. Shalala, 38
F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence
has also been defined as “more than a mere scintilla
and less than a preponderance.” Masterson v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000)).
When reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court
does not reweigh the evidence, try the questions de
novo, or substitute its own judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. Conflicts
in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the
courts. Id. The courts strive for judicial review
that is “deferential without being so obsequious as to
be meaningless.” Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492,
496 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting Taylor v. Bowen, 782
F.2d 1294, 1298 (5th Cir. 1956)).
court weighs four types of evidence in the record when
determining whether there is substantial evidence of
disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and
opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the
claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability;
and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126 (5th Cir. 1991);
Hamilton-Provost v. Colvin, 605 Fed.Appx. 233, 236
(5th Cir. 2015).
Disability Determination Standards
must follow a five-step sequential analysis to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Water, 276. F.3d at 718. The
Social Security Act defines “disability” as the
“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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A finding at any point in the
five-step sequence that the claimant is disabled, or is not
disabled, ends the analysis. Lovelace v. Bowen, 813
F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987).
first step, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is currently
working or “engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). Work is “substantial” if it
involves doing significant physical or mental activities, and
“gainful” if it is the kind of work usually done
for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572, 416.972;
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 924.
second step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has
a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Under applicable
regulations, an impairment is severe if it
“significantly limits your physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c), 416.922(a). Under Fifth Circuit binding
precedent, “[a]n impairment can be considered as not
severe only if it is a slight abnormality [having]
such minimal effect on the individual that it would not be
expected to interfere with the individual's ability to
work, irrespective of age, education or work
experience.” Loza v. Apfel, 219 F.3d 378, 391
(5th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added) (quoting Stone v.
Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir. 1985)).
“Re-stated, an impairment is severe if it is anything
more than a ‘slight abnormality' that ‘would
not be expected to interfere' with a claimant's
ability to work.” Salmond v. Berryhill, 892
F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Loza, 219 F.3d
at 391). This second step requires the claimant to make a
de minimis showing. Salmond, 892 F.3d at
claimant is found to have a severe impairment, the ALJ
proceeds to the third step of the sequential analysis:
whether the severe impairment meets or medically equals one
of the listings in the regulation known as Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii);
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the impairment
meets one of the listings in Appendix 1, the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If ...