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.
Rhonda T. 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
hearing decision should be reversed.
alleges that she is disabled as a result of throat cancer,
scoliosis, anemia, foot pain, and back and leg problems.
After her application for disability insurance benefits was
denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). That hearing was held on January 19,
2017. See Dkt. No. 9-1 at 30-55. At the time of the
hearing, Plaintiff was 61 years old. She has a high school
equivalency diploma, and has past work experience as an
assistant apartment complex manager and warehouse file clerk.
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 1, 2014.
found that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not
entitled to disability benefits. See Id. at 16-25.
Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff
suffered from a history of malignant neoplasm of the tongue
and anxiety disorder, the ALJ concluded that the severity of
those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed
in the social security regulations. The ALJ further
determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity to perform her past relevant work as a file clerk
and assistant apartment complex manager.
appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The Council
then filed this action in federal district court. Plaintiff
challenges the hearing decision on four grounds: (1) the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had a severe mental impairment but
failed to include mental limitations in the ALJ's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) finding; (2)
the ALJ gave “significant” or “great”
weight to the opinions of three non-treating psychologists
but failed to adopt or reject and explain her reasons for
rejecting specific mental limitations described by these
three sources; (3) the ALJ ignored Plaintiff's back and
leg impairments at steps two and three of the sequential
process; and (4) the ALJ was not properly appointed under the
Constitution's Appointment Clause at the time of the
hearing and, as a result, did not have legal authority to
preside over the case or issue an unfavorable decision.
undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be
reversed and this case remanded to the Commissioner of Social
Security for further proceedings consistent with these
findings and conclusions.
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, 555 (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 claimant from doing
any other substantial gainful activity.” Audler v.
Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir. 2007).
claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a
disability through the first four steps of the analysis; on
the fifth, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that
there is other substantial work in the national economy that
the claimant can perform. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at
923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. A finding that the
claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the
five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis.
See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Lovelace v.
Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987).
reviewing the propriety of a decision that a claimant is not
disabled, the Court's function is to ascertain whether
the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's final decision. The Court
weighs four elements to determine whether there is
substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical
facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining
physicians; (3) subjective ...