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Scherer v. Berryhill

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

August 2, 2019

Trina Gay Scherer, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.

          ORDER

          Peter Bray, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Trina Gay Scherer appeals the Social Security Administration Commissioner's final decision denying her application for social security benefits. (D.E. 1.) Pending before the court is Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 12) and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.E. 14.) Having carefully considered the motions, filings, and applicable law, the court affirms the final decision of the Commissioner.

         1. Procedural Posture

         Scherer applied for disability insurance benefits on November 9, 2015. She claimed to suffer from physical and mental impairments with an onset date of August 27, 2015. After her application was denied on an initial review and on reconsideration, Scherer requested a hearing.

         The hearing was held on March 31, 2017. The ALJ issued a decision on July 24, 2017, finding Scherer not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Scherer's request for review on May 15, 2018. Scherer filed this complaint in federal court to appeal the ALJ's decision.

         2. Legal Standards

         A. Five-Step Process

         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 twelve months." See 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 v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000). A finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the five-step review terminates the analysis. Johnson v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 748, 751 (5th Cir. 1988).

         At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is involved in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b) (2017). A person who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity is not disabled, regardless of the medical findings. Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 125 (5th Cir. 1991).

         At step two, the ALJ determines whether any of the claimant's impairments is severe, irrespective of age, education, or work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) (2017). An impairment is 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." Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099, 1101 (5th Cir. 1985). A person who does not have a severe impairment is not disabled. Wren, 925 F.2d at 125.

         The ALJ next determines, at step three, if the claimant's severe impairments "meet[] or equal[] a listed impairment in appendix 1." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d) (2017); see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (2017) (the "Listings"). If all the criteria of a Listing are met, the claimant is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d) (2017).

         Before reaching the final two steps, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) "based on all the relevant medical and other evidence." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e) (2017). An RFC assessment "is a determination of the most the claimant can still do despite his physical and mental limitations and is based on all relevant evidence in the claimant's record." Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461-62 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)).

         At step four, the RFC is used to determine whether the claimant can perform past relevant work. Perez, 415 F.3d at 462. If the claimant can perform their past work, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f) (2017). If not, the ALJ proceeds to step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1) (2017).

         At step five, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can perform any other work by considering the claimant's RFC and other factors, including age, education, and past work experience. Perez, 415 F.3d at 462. If the claimant can perform other work available in the national economy, the claimant is not disabled.

         B. Substantial Evidence Standard of Review

         This court's "review of the ALJ's disability determination is 'highly deferential': [it] ask[s] only whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the correct legal standards were employed." Garcia v. Berryhill, 880 F.3d 700, 704 (5th Cir. 2018). "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). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Id. The reviewing court is required to examine the record as a whole to determine whether substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision. Randall v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 105, 109 (5th Cir. 1992).

         3. ALJ's Decision and Administrative Records

         A. ...


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