United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
O'CONNOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Donald Dwayne McFarland (“Plaintiff”) filed this
action seeking judicial review of a final adverse decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”),  who denied his application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the case was referred to
United States Magistrate Judge Hal R. Ray, Jr., for review
and submission of proposed findings of fact and
recommendation for disposition. On July 2, 2019, the United
States Magistrate Judge filed his Findings, Conclusions and
Recommendations (the “Report”), in which he
recommended that the Court affirm the Commissioner's
decision and dismiss Plaintiff's appeal. Report, ECF No.
17. Plaintiff filed timely objections to the Report.
Objections, ECF No. 18. The Commissioner did not file a
response to Plaintiff's objections.
an independent review of the pleadings, objections, file,
record, applicable law, and Report, for the reasons explained
below, the Court determines that the magistrate judge's
findings and conclusions are correct and
ACCEPTS them as those of the Court.
Accordingly, the Court OVERRULES
Plaintiff's objections, AFFIRMS the
Commissioner's decision, and DISMISSES
this appeal with prejudice.
Donald Dwayne McFarland (“Plaintiff”) alleges he
is disabled due to a variety of ailments, including
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
osteoarthritis, and depression. After his application for
disability insurance benefits was denied initially and on
reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). That hearing
was held on June 8, 2017, and resulted in a decision denying
followed a five-step sequential process prescribed in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and concluded as follows: (1)
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 5, 2015, the alleged onset date; (2) he has severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
and osteoarthritis of the left shoulder, but his mental
health impairment of depression is not severe; (3) he does
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals one of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404(p); (4) he has the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a);
and (5) he is incapable of performing his past relevant work
as a police sergeant or a truck driver, but there are a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that he
could perform, such as a police clerk and a complaint
evaluation officer. The ALJ, therefore, concluded that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability from May 5, 2015,
the alleged onset date, through the date of his decision on
October 2, 2017, and was, therefore, not entitled to a period
of disability or disability insurance benefits.
appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Counsel, and
the Council affirmed. Plaintiff filed this action on August
23, 2018, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), contending
that there were errors at multiple steps of the five-step
analysis. He argues the ALJ (1) failed to recognize and
consider all of his vocationally significant impairments at
step two of the five-step sequential evaluation; (2)
improperly substituted his own medical judgment for the
medical opinion evidence of record; and (3) failed to carry
his burden of establishing the existence of other work, in
significant numbers, that Plaintiff can perform.
9, 2019, the magistrate judge issued his Report recommending
the Court affirm the Commissioner's determination that
Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability or
disability insurance benefits. Notably, the magistrate judge
agreed with Plaintiff that the ALJ applied an improper legal
standard in evaluating the severity of his impairments at
step two of the five-step sequential analysis. The magistrate
judge found, however, that “this error is irrelevant
because [the ALJ] proceeded past step two of the sequential
evaluation.” Report 8, ECF No. 17. The magistrate judge
further concluded that even were the ALJ's error at step
two relevant, “it did not affect Plaintiff's
substantial rights because sufficient evidence supported the
ALJ's determination that Plaintiff did not have a severe
affective disorder in the form of depression.”
Id. The magistrate judge also found that the
“ALJ properly interpreted the medical opinion evidence
of record rather than substituting his medical
judgment.” Id. at 14. Finally, the magistrate
judge rejected Plaintiff's argument that the ALJ failed
to carry his burden of establishing the existence of other
work, in significant numbers, that Plaintiff can perform.
15, 2019, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report. The
Commissioner did not file a response to Plaintiff's
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 the
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, 555 (5th Cir.
1995); Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170, 1147 (5th
Cir. 1993). “Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a responsible mind might accept to support a
conclusion.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704
(5th Cir. 2001); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1977); accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.
It is more then a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.
Boyd, 239 F.3d at 704; Perales, 402 U.S. at
401; Haywood v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 1463, 1466 (5th
Cir. 1989). The district court may not reweigh the evidence
or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Copeland, 771 F.3d at 924; Harris v. Apfel,
209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Bowen,
864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). The Court must
scrutinize the record, however, to ascertain whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
findings. Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th
Cir. 1988). A finding of no substantial evidence is
appropriate only when there is no medical evidence or
credible evidentiary choices in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Johnson, 864 F.2d at
343-44. If the findings are supported by substantial
evidence, “they are conclusive and must be
affirmed.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court
“may affirm only on the grounds that the Commissioner
stated for [the] decision.” Copeland, 771 F.3d
at 923 (citation omitted).
disabled worker is entitled to monthly benefits under the
Social Security Act if certain conditions are met. 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 twelve months. Id. §
423(d)(1)(A); see also Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923;
Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).
Commissioner has promulgated a five-step sequential process
to be used by hearing officers in evaluating a disability
claim. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f);
Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir
2007). The hearing officer is required to ascertain: (1)
whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that
“meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix
1” of the regulations; (4) if the claimant has a
“severe impairment” under the regulations,
whether the claimant can perform his past work despite any
limitations; and (5) if the claimant does not have the
residual functional capacity to perform past work, whether
the claimant can perform any other gainful and substantial
work in the economy, considering his age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(b)-(f). In the first four steps of the
evaluation process, the claimant bears the burden of proving
disability; on the fifth step, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that there is substantial work in the
national economy that claimant can perform. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987); Copeland,
771 F.3d at 923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. If the
Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant must then prove
that he cannot in fact perform the work suggested. Waters
v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002). A
finding that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any
point in the five-step review is conclusive and terminates
the analysis. Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923;
Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987)
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 evidence of pain and ...