United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration denying an application for
disability benefits. Before the Court are the parties'
briefs (Dkt. Nos. 12, 13 & 14), as well as the
administrative record (Cited as “Tr.”).
Elizabeth Ann King protectively applied for disability
insurance benefits, claiming disability beginning on
September 10, 2014. (Tr. 205-06, 207-12). The Agency denied
King's applications initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 74-97, 98-129). An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held
an administrative hearing on March 8, 2017. (Tr. 26-72).
After reviewing the evidence and hearing testimony, the ALJ
issued a decision on August 21, 2017, finding that King was
not disabled. (Tr. 10-20). On May 9, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final agency decision.
was 45 years old on the date she alleged she became disabled.
(Tr. 19-20, 205). She had greater than a high school
education (an associate's degree), and past relevant work
experience as a receptionist, billing clerk, advertising
clerk, cashier/checker, and claims examiner. (Tr. 19, 35-42,
233-34, 240-47). The ALJ issued a decision on August 21,
2017, finding that King was not disabled for the adjudicated
period. (Tr. 33-43). The ALJ found that King had the severe
impairments of scleroderma, Sjogern's syndrome,
Raynaud's disease with neuropathy, and bipolar disorder.
(Tr. 12). The ALJ determined that King's impairments did
not meet or equal an impairment found in the Appendix 1
Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 13-14). The ALJ found that King
had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light
work that includes occasional postural activities, frequent
fingering, and frequent feeling. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found
that, mentally, King could perform simple tasks in a work
environment free of fast-paced production requirements, make
simple work-related decisions, and deal with a few, if any,
work place changes. (Tr. 14-15). The ALJ further found that
the evidence as a whole did not support King's subjective
statements concerning the limiting effects of her
impairments. (Tr. 15-19). Based on her RFC, the ALJ
determined that King could not perform her past relevant
work. (Tr. 19). With assistance from a vocational expert, the
ALJ found that King had the RFC to perform other work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr.
19-20). Thus, the ALJ concluded that King was not disabled
for the adjudicated period and not entitled to DIB or SSI.
raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly
considered the medical opinions in determining her physical
RFC, and (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the medical
opinions of King's treating physician in determining her
mental RFC. Dkt. No. 12 at 8.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security Act defines “disability” as an
“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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine if
a claimant is able to engage in “substantial gainful
activity” (and therefore if he is disabled) the Social
Security Commissioner uses a five-step analysis:
1. a claimant who is working, engaging in a substantial
gainful activity, will not be found to be disabled no matter
what the medical findings are;
2. a claimant will not be found to be disabled unless he has
a “severe impairment”;
3. a claimant whose impairment meets or is equivalent to an
impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations will be
considered disabled without the need to consider vocational
4. a claimant who is capable of performing work that he has
done in the past must be found “not disabled;”
5. if the claimant is unable to perform his previous work as
a result of his impairment, then factors such as his age,
education, past work experience, and residual functional
capacity must be considered to determine whether he can do
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowling v. Shalala, 36
F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994). A finding of disability or no
disability at any step is conclusive and terminates the
analysis. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236
(5th Cir. 1994). The claimant has the burden of proof for the
first four steps; at step five, the burden initially shifts
to the Commissioner to identify other work the applicant is
capable of performing. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d
614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990). Then, if the Commissioner
“fulfills his burden of pointing out potential
alternative employment, the burden . . . shifts back to the
claimant to prove that he is unable to perform the alternate
work.” Id. (citation omitted).
review of the Commissioner's final decision under the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is limited to
two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's decision; and (2) whether the Commissioner
correctly applied the relevant legal standards. Kinash v.
Callahan, 129 F.3d 736, 738 (5th Cir. 1997). Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a
preponderance-in other words, “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172,
173 (5th Cir. 1995). The Court considers four elements of
proof when determining whether there is substantial evidence
of a disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses
and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the
claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability;
and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.
Id. at 174. However, the reviewing court may not
reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Greenspan, 38 F.3d at 236. The Court may only
scrutinize the record to determine whether it contains
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
decision. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th
Cir. 1995). If the Court finds substantial evidence to
support the decision, the Court must uphold the decision.
Selders, 914 F.2d at 617 (“If the . . .
findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are
conclusive and must be affirmed.”); 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). A finding of no substantial evidence will only be
made where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices
or no contrary medical evidence. Abshire v. Bowen,
848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988)