United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION
CHRISTINA A. BRYAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michelle Lisa Odonohoe filed this case under the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), for review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her request for
social security disability insurance and supplemental
security income benefits. Odonohoe and the Commissioner filed
cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 6, 9). After
considering the pleadings, the record, and the applicable
law, the court recommends that the district court GRANT the
Commissioner's motion, DENY Odonohoe's motion, and
affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Factual and Administrative History
January 2016, Odonohoe filed applications for social security
disability and supplemental security income benefits claiming
May 16, 2015 as the onset date of disability. Odonohoe claims
that she has been unable to work since May 16, 2015 due to
depression, arthritis, morbid obesity and vision problems.
Dkt. 9 at 6-7; Tr. at 16, 240, 242. Odonohoe was 52 years old at
the time of her alleged onset date and turned 55 on November
benefit applications were denied by the agency on initial
review and reconsideration. After a hearing at which Odonohoe
and a vocational expert testified, the ALJ issued a partially
favorable decision, finding Odonohoe disabled as of November
2, 2017 (her 55th birthday), but not disabled
prior to that date. Tr. at 38-90. The Appeals Council denied
review on March 16, 2018, and the ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner.
ALJ's partial disability finding hinged on two factors:
by November 2017 Odonohoe's multiple sclerosis had
progressed, resulting in a change in her residual functional
capacity from light work to sedentary work, with additional
limitations; and, according to the Grid Rules, the change in
her residual functional capacity resulted in a disability
finding when Odonohoe reached age 55.
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); Stockman v. Apfel, 174
F.3d 692, 693 (5th Cir. 1999).
the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence, they are conclusive." 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)). 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 v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000)).
Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to
resolve, not the courts. Id.
Disability Determination Standards
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." 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ 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. 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
first step, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is currently
working or "engaged in substantial gainful
activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). At the second step, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant has a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(h), 416.920(a)(4)(h). Under Fifth
Circuit precedent, "[a]n impairment can be
considered...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...." 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));
Salmond v. Berryhill, 892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir.
2018) ("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."). The second step
requires the claimant to make a de minimis showing.
Salmond, 892 F.3d at 817.
three the ALJ determines whether the severe impairment meets
or equals one of the listings in the regulation known as
Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii); 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 claimant's symptoms do
not meet a listed impairment, the sequential analysis
continues to the fourth step.
to step four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's
"residual functional capacity" (RFC). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). "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). 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). Based
on the RFC, the ALJ determines at step four whether the
claimant can perform her past work. The claimant bears the
burden to prove disability at steps one through four, meaning
the claimant must prove she is not currently working and is
no longer capable of performing her past relevant work.
Newton, 209 F.3d at 453 (citing 42. U.S.C. §
five the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
"claimant is capable of engaging in some type of
alternative work that exists in the national economy."
Id. Thus, the record must contain evidence
demonstrating that other work exists in significant No. in
the national economy, and that the claimant can do that work
given her ...