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Moody v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

July 29, 2019

Lynda Elaine Moody, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHRISTINA A. BRYAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Lynda Elaine Moody filed this case under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her request for social security benefits. Moody and the Commissioner moved for summary judgment (Dkts. 9, 10). After considering the pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the court DENIES Moody's motion, GRANTS the Commissioner's motion, and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.[1]

         I. Background

         1. Factual and Administrative History

         Moody filed claims for disabled widow social security insurance and supplemental security income benefits on October 8, 2015. She alleged the onset of disability as of October 1, 2015 primarily due to breast cancer and related treatments. Dkt.3-8 at 6. The agency denied her claim on initial review and reconsideration. Dkt. 3-3 at 16. An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on February 9, 2017 at which Moody and a vocational expert, Kay S. Gilreath, testified.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Moody's applications for benefits on June 6, 2017. The Appeals Council denied review on October 17, 2017, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984(b)(2) and 416.1484(b)(2). Moody filed this case on July 10, 2018.

         2. Standard for District Court Review of the Commissioner's Decision

         Section 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); Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693 (5th Cir. 1999).

         With respect to all decisions other than conclusions of law, [2] “[i]f the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed.” 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).

         The court considers 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 (5thCir.1991); Hamilton-Provost v. Colvin, 605 Fed.Appx. 233, 236 (5th Cir. 2015).

         3. Disability Determination Standards

         The ALJ must follow a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Waters, 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.” Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990) (citing 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).

         In the first step, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is currently working or “engaged in substantial gainful activity.” 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 v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 924 (5th Cir. 2014).

         In the second step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment. 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), 416.920(c). Under binding Fifth Circuit 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” ...


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