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King v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

August 28, 2019

ELIZABETH ANN KING
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANDREW W. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is 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.”).

         I. GENERAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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.

         King 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. (Tr. 20).

         Plaintiff 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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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 factors;
4. a claimant who is capable of performing work that he has done in the past must be found “not disabled;” and
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 other work.

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).

         Judicial 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)

         III. ...


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