United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
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.
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.
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
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.
appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. See
Id. at 181. The Council affirmed. See Id. at
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
undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be
reversed and remanded.
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.
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).
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 ...