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McMillian v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

September 20, 2019

DALE ALLEN McMILLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL[1], COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          FRANCES H. STACY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court[2] in this social security appeal is Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 17) and Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 18). Having considered the cross motions for summary judgment, each side's Response to the other's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document Nos. 20 & 21), the administrative record, the written decision of the Administrative Law Judge dated November 29, 2016, and the applicable law, the Court ORDERS, for the reasons set forth below, that Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and this matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Dale Allen McMillan ("McMillan") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a adverse final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claim for disability insurance benefits. McMillan raises five points of error in this appeal: (1) "The ALJ failed to properly evaluate the severity of all impairments in the record;" (2) "The ALJ failed to properly evaluate and weigh the medical opinions of record;" (3) "The ALJ's residual functional capacity finding is not supported by substantial evidence;" (4) "The ALJ's finding that Plaintiff retains the ability to perform his past relevant work as a security guard is not supported by substantial evidence and results from legal error;" and (5) "The ALJ's finding that Plaintiff retains the ability to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy is not supported by substantial evidence and results from legal error." The Commissioner, in contrast, argues that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision, that the decision comports with applicable law, and that the decision should be affirmed.

         II. Procedural History

         On July 8, 2015, McMillan applied for disability insurance benefits, claiming that he was unable to work since June 20, 2013, as a result of diabetes, arthritis, a neck injury, high blood pressure, back pain, joint pain, tinnitus, and thyroid problems.[3] The Social Security Administration denied his application at the initial and reconsideration stages. After that, McMillan requested a hearing before an ALJ. The Social Security Administration granted his request and an ALJ, D'Lisa Simmons, held a hearing on September 15, 2016, at which McMillan's claims were considered de novo. (Tr. 35-76). On November 29, 2016, the ALJ issued her decision finding McMillan not disabled between his alleged amended onset date of June 10, 2014 and the date of her decision. (Tr. 10-21).

         McMillan sought review of the ALJ's adverse decision with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will grant a request to review an ALJ's decision if any of the following circumstances are present: (1) it appears that the ALJ abused his discretion; (2) the ALJ made an error of law in reaching his conclusion; (3) substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's actions, findings or conclusions; or (4) a broad policy issue may affect the public interest. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1470. On November 3, 2017, the Appeals Council found no basis for review (Tr. 1-3), and the ALJ's November 29, 2016, decision thus became final. McMillan seeks, with this proceeding filed pursuant to § 405g, judicial review of that final, adverse administrative decision.

         The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment (Document Nos. 17 & 18), which have been fully briefed and are ripe for ruling.

         III. Standard for Review of Agency Decision

         The court's review of a denial of disability benefits is limited "to determining (1) whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, and (2) whether the Commissioner's decision comports with relevant legal standards." Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693 (5th Cir. 1999). Indeed, Title 42, Section 405(g) limits judicial review of the Commissioner's decision: "The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." The Act specifically grants the district court the power to enter judgment, upon the pleadings and transcript, "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing" when not supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.§ 405(g). While it is incumbent upon the court to examine the record in its entirety to decide whether the decision is supportable, Simmonsv. Harris, 602F.2d 1233, 1236 (5th Cir. 1979), the court may not "reweigh the evidence in the record nor try the issues de novo, nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the [Commissioner] even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision." Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343 (5th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 692, 693 (5th Cir. 1999); Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391 (5th Cir. 1985). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992).

         The United States Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence," as used in the Act, to be "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Substantial evidence is "more than a scintilla and less than a preponderance." Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993). The evidence must create more than "a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but no 'substantial evidence' will be found only where there is a 'conspicuous absence of credible choices' or 'no contrary medical evidence.'" Homes v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983).

         IV. Burden of Proof

         An individual claiming entitlement to disability insurance benefits under the Act has the burden of proving his disability. Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 344 (5th Cir. 1988). The Act defines disability as the "inability 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be proven through medically accepted clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). The impairment must be so severe as to limit the claimant in the following manner:

he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job ...

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