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Betty G. v. Saul

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

August 20, 2019

LUELLA BETTY G., Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Luella Betty G. 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 is reversed and this case remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         Plaintiff alleges that is she disabled as a result of a degenerative disc disease. See Administrative Record [Dkt. No. 13-1] (“Tr.”) at 209. Alleging an onset date of March 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security income, which the Commissioner initially denied - and denied again on reconsideration. See Id. at 56, 66. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 117. That hearing was held on November 8, 2016. See id. at 24-55. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 61 years old and had completed high school. See Id. at 30-31. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her onset date of March 1, 2015. See Id. at 12.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See Id. at 19. Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease, 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 16. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform

sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except [she] can frequently climb ramps and stairs and frequently kneel. Claimant can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and occasionally stoop, kneel, and balance. She is limited to occasional bilateral overhead reaching.

See Id. at 16. As such, ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and was capable of performing past relvant work as a project director or a office manager. See id. at 18.

         Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council, which affirmed the ALJ's decision. See Id. at 1-5, 172-74.

         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 failed to support with substantial evidence her rejection of mental health issues at Step Two, and failed to afford sufficient weight to the opinions of the consultative examiner and treating physicians, ” and (2) “the ALJ failed to afford sufficient weight to the physical opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician in an RFC unsupported by substantial evidence, and likely resulting in a misapplication of the medical vocational guidelines.” See Dkt. No. 22 at 1.

         The Court 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 ...

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