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Tony S. v. Saul

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

July 25, 2019

TONY S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Tony S. seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the decision should be reversed and this case remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Background

         Plaintiff alleges that he is disabled as a result of Osteomyelitis in the right index finger, degenerative joint disease of the right hand, reduced visual acuity, and depression. See Administrative Record [Dkt. No. 13-1] (“Tr.”) at 19, 184-198. Alleging an onset date of September 1, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security income, which the Commissioner initially denied - and denied again on reconsideration. See Id. at 117, 127. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 130. That hearing was held on March 8, 2017. See Id. at 35. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 54 years old. See Id. He reached the eleventh grade in high school. See Id. at 39. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 27, 2015. See Id. at 17.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not entitled to SSI benefits. See Id. 17-28. Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from Osteomyelitis in the right index finger, degenerative joint disease of the right hand, reduced visual acuity, and depression, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. See Id. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform:

medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c), such that he could sit 6/8 hours, stand/walk 6/8 hours, lift/carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, with the following additional limitations: The claimant could frequently handle and finger with his right, dominant hand. Due to his visual impairment, the claimant could work with large objects, but he should avoid workplace hazards, such as unprotected height or machinery with moving parts. The claimant could perform detailed, but not complex, tasks. He could have frequent contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the public.

See Id. at 22. As such, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a fast-food cook. See Id. at 26. Alternatively, relying on a vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under Medical-Vocational Guidelines because given his age, education, and exertional capacity for work, he was capable of working as a linen-room attendant, a dining room attendant, or a furniture cleaner - jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. See Id. at 28.

         Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. See Id. at 181. The Council affirmed. See Id. at 14.

         Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff challenges the hearing decision on the grounds that (1) “substantial evidence did not support the Administrative Law Judge's finding [Plaintiff] had past relevant work” as a fast-food cook and (2) Plaintiff “demonstrated harm at Step Five because he met the special vocational rule under 20 C.F.R. § 416.962(b) when he turned 55.” Id. at 1.

         The undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be reversed and remanded.

         Legal Standards

         Judicial review in social security cases is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether Commissioner applied the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552-55 (5th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923. The Commissioner, rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, including weighing conflicting testimony and determining witnesses' credibility, and the Court does not try the issues de novo. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994). This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's but must scrutinize the entire record to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports the hearing decision. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988). The Court “may affirm only on the grounds that the Commissioner stated for [the] decision.” Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.

         “In order to qualify for disability insurance benefits or [supplemental security income], a claimant must suffer from a disability.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A disabled worker is entitled to monthly social security benefits if certain conditions are met. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines “disability” as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or last for a continued period of 12 months. See Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).

         “In evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner conducts a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether (1) the claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the social security regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the ...


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