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Dewey P. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, San Angelo Division

September 10, 2019

DEWEY P., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [2] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

          HAL R. RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the plaintiff seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied his application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The Senior United States District Judge reassigned the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and the parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. After considering the pleadings, briefs, and administrative record, this Court recommends the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed and this case dismissed.

         I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on October 19, 2015, alleging impairments that were disabling as of January 1, 2012 and later amended the onset date to October 19, 2015. That application was denied initially and after reconsideration. The plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge on March 1, 2017. The ALJ issued a decision on May 18, 2017 finding the claimant was not disabled.

         Specifically, the ALJ found during step one that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the amended onset date. (Doc. 14-1, 21). At step two, the ALJ found he had the severe impairments of mild intellectual disorder, major depressive disorder, and possible seizure disorder. (Doc. 14-1, 22). In the third step, the ALJ found those severe impairments did not meet and were not the equivalent of any listed impairments. (Doc. 14-1, 31). The step three analysis continued with the ALJ determining the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform work with environmental limitations due to the seizure risk and limitations to short, simple instructions on judgment required only on simple work-related decisions, as well as limitations on contact with the public and coworkers. (Doc. 14-1, 33). The ALJ did not find evidence of a past relevant job he could return to, but that there were sufficient jobs he could perform, and was therefore not disabled. (Doc. 14-1, 41-42).

         The plaintiff then applied to the Appeals Council, which denied review on February 15, 2018. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision and is properly before the Court for review. Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir. 2005) ("[t]he Commissioner's final decision includes the Appeals Council's denial of [a claimant's] request for review").

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         According to the pleadings, testimony at the administrative hearing, and administrative record, the plaintiff was 41 years old and living with his wife and child at the time of the hearing. He had experience as a custodian, an aide on an oil field rig, and stocking shelves. He believes his physical and mental impairments render him disabled under the Act.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A person is disabled if they are unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(c)(a)(3)(A), 423 (d)(1)(A) (2012). '"Substantial gainful activity' is work activity involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit." Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th Cir. 2002); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a)-(b).

         To evaluate a disability claim, the Commissioner follows 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); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). "The claimant bears the burden of showing [they are] disabled through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth, the Commissioner must show that there is other substantial work in the national economy that the claimant can perform." Audler, 501 F.3d at 448. Before proceeding to steps 4 and 5, the Commissioner must assess a claimant's RFC. Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). RFC is defined as "the most [a claimant] can still do despite [the claimant's] limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1).

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to an inquiry into whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 718 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Estate of Morris v. Shalala, 207 F.3d 744, 745 (5th Cir. 2000)). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance" and includes "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000); Watson v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 212, 215 (5th Cir. 2002). If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, then the findings are conclusive, and the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971); Newton, 209 F.3d at 452. The Court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, even if the Court believes that the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. Moreover, "[c]onflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve." Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The plaintiff alleges the ALJ did not support some analysis with substantial evidence. Specifically, he points to determinations about cerebrovascular issues and mental impairments. However, this is a misstatement of the law: the claimant bears the burden of presenting evidence of disability, and the ALJ's duty is to develop all relevant facts, not collect all existing records. See Audler, 501 F.3d at 448; Sun v. Colvin,793 F.3d 502, 509 (5th Cir. 2015). To upset the ALJ's decision, the plaintiff must show that there was insufficient evidence for a reasonable person to reach the same conclusion as the ALJ, not that some contradictory evidence might exist. Newton, 209 F.3d at 452. As opposed to cases ...


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