United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CHRISTINA A. BRYAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Christopher Frank 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
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under the Act. The Commissioner and Frank moved for
summary judgment (Dkt. 10, 11, 12) and the Commissioner
responded to Frank's motion. (Dkt. 13). After considering
the pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the court
GRANTS Frank's motion,
DENIES the Commissioner's motion, and
REMANDS this case to the
Factual and Administrative History
filed a claim for social security disability insurance
benefits on October 23, 2015 alleging a disability onset date
of October 1, 2007 due to post traumatic stress disorder with
major depression, chronic bilateral ankle pain, cervical
strain, lumbar strain, migraines, chronic bilateral knee
pain, and tinnitus. (Dkt. 3-4 at 2). Following the denial of
his application and subsequent request for reconsideration,
Frank requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). A hearing took place on March 13, 2017 and Frank
amended his alleged onset date to May 1, 2014. (Dkt. 3-3 at
79). The ALJ issued a decision on April 26, 2017, finding
that Frank was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. (Dkt. 3-3 at 56-69). The Appeals
Council denied review on August 28, 2017 (Dkt. 3-3 at 2-7),
and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
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); Frank 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 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).
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; 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).
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).
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 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. Id.The second step
requires the claimant to make a de minimis showing.
See Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 293
n.5 (5th Cir. 1992); Salmond v.
Berryhill, 892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018).
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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the impairment
meets one of the listings in Appendix 1, the claimant is
disabled. If the ALJ finds that the claimant's symptoms
do not meet any listed impairment, the sequential analysis
continues to the fourth step.
to step four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's
“residual functional capacity” (RFC). “The
RFC is the individual's ability to do physical and mental
tasks on a sustained basis despite limitations from her
impairments.” Giles v. Astrue, 433 Fed.Appx.
241, 245 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §404.1545).
The ALJ must base the RFC determination on the record as a
whole and must consider all of a claimant's impairments,
including those that are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 404. 1545(e); Giles, 433 Fed.Appx. at
245; see also Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019,
1023-24 (5th Cir. 1990). Once the ALJ has ...