United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
David L. Caldwell appeals the Social Security Administration
Commissioner's final decision denying his application for
social security benefits. (D.E. 1.) The parties consented to
proceed before the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (D.E. 10.) Pending before the
court is Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 13) and
Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.E. 17.)
Having considered the motions, filings, and applicable law,
the court finds that the final decision of the Commissioner
should be affirmed.
applied for disability insurance benefits on July 2, 2014.
(Tr. 195.) Caldwell claimed he was disabled since January 8,
2013, due to hepatitis C, bulging discs in his lower back,
pain in his right elbow, pain in his left collar bone, and
sinus problems, among others. (Tr. 220, 224.) In his
application, Caldwell stated that he was born in 1962. He
worked as a restaurant assistant manager, building engineer,
mailroom clerk, marketing associate, and restaurant
dishwasher. (Tr. 220, 225-26.) The Social Security
Administration denied Caldwell's application on September
18, 2014. (Tr. 143-44.) Caldwell appealed on September 24,
2014. (Tr. 149-50.) His application was denied upon
reconsideration on October 24, 2014. (Tr. 153-56.) Caldwell
requested a hearing.
Law Judge ("ALJ") Richard A. Gilbert held a hearing
on December 2, 2015, in Houston, Texas. (Tr. 44-72.) The ALJ
issued a decision on January 27, 2016, finding Caldwell not
disabled. (Tr. 7-28.) The Appeals Council denied
Caldwell's request for review on March 22, 2017. (Tr.
1-5.) Caldwell filed this complaint in federal court to
appeal the ALJ's decision. (D.E. 1.)
Legal Standards A. Five-Step Process
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).
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).
one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is involved
in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)
(2016). 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
two, the ALJ determines whether any of the claimant's
impairments is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) (2016).
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, 925F.2d at 125.
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) (2016);
see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (2016)
(the "Listings"). If all the criteria of a Listing
are met, the claimant is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(d) (2016).
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) (2016). 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)).
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) (2016). If not,
the ALJ proceeds to step five. 20 C.F.R. §
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
Substantial Evidence Standard of Review
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 supports the ALJ's decision.
Randall v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 105, 109 (5th Cir.
Hearing and ...