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Thomas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Texas

July 31, 2019

Dolores Thomas Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy Berryhill, Defendant.

          OPINION ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LYNN N. HUGHES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         1. Introduction

         Dolores Thomas brought this action for judicial review of the commissioner's final decision to deny her disability insurance benefits. The question is whether substantial evidence supports the commissioner's decision. Because it does not, the commissioner's final decision is reversed, and this case is remanded to the commissioner for further proceedings.

         2. Background

         Thomas applied for disability benefits on May 1, 2014, alleging she was disabled as of November 12, 2013. She claims to suffer from impairments that limit her ability to work, including migraine headaches and thyroid gland disorder. Thomas alleges she suffers from debilitating headaches several times per week, during which she cannot work.

         Thomas has a high school education. She worked for many years as a nurse aide and an administrative assistant.

         The hearing officer found that Thomas's migraine headaches and thyroid gland disorder are severe impairments. The hearing officer concluded that Thomas is not disabled because her impairments do not prevent her from performing her past work.

         3. Legal Framework

         a. Standard of Review

         This court's review is limited to determining whether the commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were employed. Garcia v. Berryhill, 880 F.3d 700, 704 (5th Cir. 2018). The court "does not reweigh the evidence in the record, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, even if the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision." Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). "Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve." Id. "A decision is supported by substantial evidence if credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision." Salmond v. Berryhill, 892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018).

         b. Statutory and Regulatory Criteria

         The Social Security Act provides disability insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the program and have a physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 423. It defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner uses a sequential, five-step approach to determine whether the claimant is disabled. The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, but the Commissioner bears the burden on the fifth step. Newton, 209 F.3d at 455. First, a person who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled. Second, a person who does not have a severe impairment is not disabled. Third, a person whose severe impairments meet or equal an impairment in appendix 1 of the regulations is deemed disabled. The commissioner must determine the person's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which is a determination of the most the claimant can still do despite her physical and mental limitations. The RFC is used in the fourth and fifth steps of the analysis to determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work or any other work that is significant in the national economy.

         4. ...


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