United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Gayle W. 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
hearing decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled as a result of high
blood pressure, hypertension, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
After her 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 December 1,
2016. See Dkt. No. 12-1 at 47-90. At the time of the
hearing, Plaintiff was 60 years old. She has some college,
and has past work experience as an eligibility worker,
employment and claims aide, counselor, and general clerk.
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since March 1, 2014.
found that Plaintiff was not disabled and therefore not
entitled to disability benefits. See Id. at 28-42.
Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff
suffered from diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia,
hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome, parathyroid disease,
obesity, disorders of the cervical and lumbar spine, and
depression, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those
impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in
the social security regulations. The ALJ further determined
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to
perform a limited range of light work, but could not return
to her past relevant employment. Given her age, education,
and exertional capacity for light work, and relying on a
vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has transferable skills and is capable of making a
successful adjustment to working as a case aide or park aide
-- jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
appealed that decision to the Appeals Council. The Council
single ground for relief, Plaintiff contends that the
assessment of her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is not supported by substantial evidence
and results from reversible legal error.
Court determines that the hearing decision is affirmed in all
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, 555 (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.
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).
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 claimant from doing
any other substantial gainful activity.” Audler v.
Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447-48 (5th Cir. 2007).
claimant bears the initial burden of establishing a
disability through the first four steps of the analysis; on
the fifth, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that
there is other substantial work in the national economy that
the claimant can perform. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at
923; Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. A finding that the
claimant is disabled or not disabled at any point in the
five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis.
See 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 disability;
and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
See Martinez, 64 F.3d at 174.
has a duty to fully and fairly develop the facts relating to
a claim for disability benefits. See Ripley, 67 F.3d
at 557. If the ALJ does not satisfy this duty, the resulting
decision is not substantially justified. See Id.
However, the Court does not hold the ALJ to procedural
perfection and will reverse the ALJ's decision as not
supported by substantial evidence where the claimant shows
that the ALJ failed to fulfill the duty to adequately develop
the record only if that failure prejudiced Plaintiff, see
Jones v. Astrue, 691 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 2012) -
that is, only if Plaintiff's substantial rights have been
affected, see Audler, 501 F.3d at 448.
“Prejudice can be established by showing that
additional evidence would have been produced if the ALJ had
fully developed the record, and that the additional evidence
might have led to a different decision.”
Ripley, 67 F.3d at 557 n.22. Put another way,
Plaintiff “must show that he could and would have
adduced evidence that might have altered the result.”
Brock v. Chater, 84 F.3d 726, 728-29 (5th Cir.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's RFC finding is not
supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to
consider all of the evidence, and, specifically, failed to
accommodate all restrictions supported by the record.
According to Plaintiff, the record demonstrates that her
impairments are significantly more limiting than accounted
for by the ALJ and that her limitations restrict her lifting,
carrying, standing, walking, ...