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Kenneth S. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 31, 2019

KENNETH S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kenneth 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.

         Background

          Plaintiff alleges that is he disabled as a result of left ventricular hypertrophy, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, idiopathic peripheral autonomic neuropathy, atrial dilation, a dilated ventricle, primary pulmonary hypertension, orthostatic hypotension dysautonomic syndrome, upper respiratory infection, and lumber strain. See Administrative Record [Dkt. No. 13-1] (“Tr.”) at 290. Alleging an onset date of March 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security income, which the Commissioner initially denied - and denied again on reconsideration. See Id. at 98-117. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See id. at 133-34. That hearing was held on October 18, 2016. See Id. at 49-97. A supplemental hearing was held on February 10, 2017, where Dr. James Gray, a consultive examiner, and Plaintiff appeared and testified. See id. at 32-48. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 56 years old and had completed high school. See Id. at 61. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his onset date of March 24, 2014. See Id. at 14.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See Id. at 26. Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of obesity, congestive heart failure with hypertension, osteomyelitis and great toe amputation, and diabetes mellitus with early retinopathy and peripheral neuropathy, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. See Id. at 14. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform

light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except standing and/or walking four hours total in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and sit six hours total in an eight-hour workday. He can occasionally climb ramps or stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently stoop and occasionally crouch, crawl, or kneel. The claimant cannot perform tasks that specifically require balancing on narrow objects like beams or elevated walkways, but he retains the ordinary balance to stand, walk, and perform other postural movements. He cannot work in high heat or humidity, but he can pass through such areas for 10 minutes or less at one time to reach another temperature-controlled area.

See Id. at 20. As such, ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and was capable of performing past relvant work as a data entry clerk. See id. at 25.

         Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council, which affirmed the ALJ's decision. See Id. at 1-5, 227-29.

         Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff challenges the hearing decision on the grounds that (1) the ALJ's Step Four finding that Plaintiff retained the residual functioning capacity to perform his past relevant work as a data entry clerk was not supported by substantial evidence, and that (2) the ALJ's hypothetical question, on which the ALJ relied, was not supported by substantial evidence and the vocational expert's response to this question was not substantial evidence.

         The undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be reversed and remanded.

         Legal Standards

         Judicial 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.

         “In 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).

         “In 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).

         The 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).

         In 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 ...


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