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Marquez Rodriguez v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

September 26, 2019




         This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Benjamin R. Marquez Rodriguez ("Plaintiff) appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. (Pl's Compl., ECF No. 4, at 1). The parties consented to the transfer of the case to this Court for determination and entry of judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Local Court Rule CV-72. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff was fifty years old at the time of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALT'), dated August 1, 2017. See (R. 38, 308).[2] His past relevant work includes working as a forklift operator and as a truck driver. (R. 36, 358). On November 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability and DIB and SSI, in which he alleged disability beginning on August 15, 2013, due to "lumbar problems/right shoulder tendon." (R. 308-16, 317-20, 368). After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing by an ALJ. (R. 149, 161, 168-69).

         On September 17, 2015, a hearing was conducted before the ALJ. (R. 63-77). On November 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits at step five of the five-step evaluation process on the basis that Plaintiff was not disabled because he was "capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, " such as "bakery worker, conveyor line." (R. 123-31). Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council who remanded the case to the ALJ, on December 22, 2016, because "[t]he decision does not contain an evaluation of treating source opinions" that are inconsistent with the residual functional capacity for light work as determined by the ALJ. (R. 139). The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to:

Give consideration to the treating source opinion pursuant to the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1527 and 416.927 and Social Security Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p, and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence. As appropriate, the Administrative Law Judge may request the treating source to provide additional evidence and/or further clarification of the opinion (20 CFR 404.1520b and 416.920).

(R. 139).

         On June 20, 2017, a second hearing was held before the ALJ. (R. 45-62). Thereafter, on August 1, 2017, the ALJ issued his written decision finding at step five of the five-step evaluation process that Plaintiff was "not disabled" prior to March 31, 2017, but became "disabled" beginning on March 31, 2017, when Plaintiffs age category changed. (R. 37-38). On January 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final administrative decision. (R. 1-8).

         In this appeal, Plaintiff argues: (1) that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to examining source opinion and failed to follow the Appeals Council's Remand Order and (2) that the ALJ's residual functional capacity finding is not supported by substantial evidence. (Pl's Br., ECF No. 18, at 3).


         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards. Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence "means-and means only-'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154, (2019) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. Nat 7 Labor Relations Bd., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993)). A finding of "no substantial evidence" will be made only 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) (quoting Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner, the Court may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo. Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). The Court may not substitute its own judgment "even if the evidence preponderates against the [Commissioner's] decision." Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). "Conflicts in evidence are for the [Commissioner] and not the courts to resolve." Spellman, 1 F.3d at 360 (quoting Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)) (internal quotation marks omitted). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, "they are conclusive and must be affirmed." Id. However, "[t]he ALJ's decision must stand or fall with the reasons set forth in the ALJ's decision, as adopted by the Appeals Council." Newton, 209 F.3d at 455.

         B. Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

         Under the Social Security Act, "disability" means, in relevant part, 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). This means that:

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that 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 ...

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