United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Victoria Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Tagle Senior United States District Judge.
a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative
decision of Social Security benefits. The Court is in receipt
of Plaintiff Lisa Lynette Stallings'
(“Stallings”) Complaint, Dkt. No. 1; Original
Brief and Incorporated Memorandum in Support of Motion for
Summary Judgment, Dkt. No. 11; Motion for Summary Judgment,
Dkt. No. 12 and her Reply Brief, Dkt. No. 18. The Court is in
receipt of Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, (“Commissioner”) Answer to the
Complaint, Dkt. No. 6, and Cross Motion for Summary Judgment,
Dkt. No. 15. The Court is also in receipt of the
Administrative Transcript/Record, Dkt. No. 7.
seeks judicial review of a final administrative decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
filed an application June 19, 2014 with the Social Security
Administration applying for Social Security Disability
Insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act and for
Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the
same act. Tr. 162, 221. Both applications claimed Stallings
became disabled on February 11, 2014. Id. She
claimed she is disabled due to carpal tunnel, arthritis,
depression, anxiety, bursitis, foot pain, hearing loss, knee
pain and spine issues. Tr. 357. At the time of her alleged
disability occurrence, Stallings was 44 years old with a
tenth grade education level. Tr. 233, 358.
application was denied on October 8, 2014 and then again in
reconsideration on February 4, 2015. Tr. 221. Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Gary J. Suttles held a hearing
in the case on May 20, 2016. Tr. 100. In a decision dated
June 21, 2016 (incorrectly stamped June 21, 2015) the
Administrative Law Judge denied Stallings' application,
finding she could perform some light jobs in the national
economy. Tr. 234-35. After submitting additional evidence,
Stallings appealed to the Appeals Council (“AC”)
and had her appeal denied on September 25, 2017. Tr. 1-3 The
AC found that there was not a reasonable probability that the
additional evidence would change the outcome of the decision.
Id. Stallings filed this case before this Court and
incorporated all documentation into the transcript. Dkt. No.
11 at 3.
hearing, the ALJ inquired for an hour and twenty minutes into
the nature of Stallings' claims. A Vocational Expert also
appeared and testified. Tr. 100. Most of the issues discussed
at the hearing were noted in the ALJ's decision but the
Court will take note of several points of dispute regarding
the ALJ's inquiry and Stalling's submission of
beginning of the hearing the ALJ inquired into the
completeness of the medical records. Tr. 102-03. The
representative for Stallings informed the ALJ that there were
outstanding records. Id. The ALJ gave Stallings two
weeks to complete the record. Id.
the hearing the ALJ opined on the quality of the medical
advice Stallings had received:
ALJ: What would contradict the MRI results?
ATTY: No. The MRI results say severe spinal stenosis, Your
Honor, and as you know with the listings, severe spinal
stenosis __ our argument actually is it meets listing level
due to the severity of the__
ALJ: Not the - well, you're totally wrong, Counsel.
Everybody has severe stenosis of some degree.
ATTY: Everybody has severe stenosis?
ALJ: And just because you have severe stenosis, that gets you
step - that gets you to step two in the evaluation process.
You got a severe impairment. Okay. I'll grant it.
She's got a severe back impairment. That's about all
that gets you. Okay? That doesn't meet your listing at
all. I don't know where you get a listing from out of
that, but if you look at what the MRI actually says, it
doesn't indicate there's any impingement on the nerve
root nor is there any herniation. This says minimal
degenerative changes. A protrusion.
ATTY: Several, yes, and narrowing of the spine. Yes. I see. I
read it, Your Honor.
ALJ: Okay. Wonderful. All I'm saying, ma'am, is with
that kind of result if you let anybody touch you without
getting a second opinion, I would consider that doctor to be
on the verge of malpractice, the one that recommends surgery
with this MRI. That's all I'm telling you. You do
what you want.
Late Medical Records
and a representative for Stallings agreed at the hearing on
May 20, 2016 to keep the record open for two weeks for
Stallings to submit additional medical records. Tr. 102-103.
Two weeks after the hearing Stallings' attorneys filed a
post hearing memorandum challenging the findings at the
hearing. Tr. 311-31. The memorandum did not provide and did
not mention the outstanding medical records. Id. The
ALJ issued his written decision on June 21, 2016, one month
after the hearing. Tr. 218. The additional records were
eventually added to Stallings record and considered by the
Appeals Council during its review. Tr. 2.
June 21, 2016 decision the ALJ concluded Stallings was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr.
221 In a 15-page decision the ALJ reviewed the five-step
process required by statute to render his decision. Tr. 222.
The ALJ held that the claimant met the insured status
requirements required by the Social Security Act; that
Stallings had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 11, 2014; and that Stallings had severe
impairments of osteoarthritis of the feet, legs and back,
obesity, depression, and anxiety. Tr. 224. The ALJ concluded
the impairments of hearing loss and carpal tunnel were not
severe under the regulations. Tr. 224. The ALJ held that
Stallings did not have a combination of impairments that
meets one of the proscribed categories of impairments under
“20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926).” Tr. 224. This holding was supported by a
finding that Stallings did not have an inability to ambulate
or inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively
that would support such categories. Tr. 224-25.
considered each impairment in turn and provided the legal
framework which guided his decision. Tr. 224-26.
Specifically, the ALJ found “the records do not
document any neurological defects, significant
musculoskeletal abnormalities, or any serious dysfunctioning
of the bodily organs that would preclude a level of work as
delineated in this decision.” Tr. 225. In the final
step, the ALJ held: “After careful consideration of the
entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), lifting a maximum of 20
pounds and frequently 10 pounds. She can stand and walk 4 to
8 hours each and sit 6 to 8 hours for a full 8-hour
day.” Tr. 227. The decision went on to note specific
physical abilities the ALJ determined Stallings to be capable
of. In support of those conclusions the ALJ outlined the
legal framework he employed and how the medical records fit
into that framework. Tr. 227-28. “After careful
consideration of the evidence, I find that the claimant's
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause alleged symptoms; however the
claimant's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence in the record for the reasons explained in this
decision.” Tr. 228. The ALJ then listed relevant
medical events from the medical record. Tr. 228-32. The ALJ
weighed the opinions of examining and treating doctors. Tr.
232. The ALJ gave “great weight” to opinions he
thought were consistent with the evidence and “little
weight” to those opinions he thought were inconsistent
with the medical records. Tr. 230-33 The opinions of doctors
Jeanine Kwun (“Kwun”), Patty Rowley
(“Rowley”), Susan Thompson
(“Thompson”), Arun Jain (“Jain”) and
Narvin Curtis (“Curtis”) were given great weight,
Tr. 232, while the opinions of Doctor Followwill
(“Followwill”) and treating physician Neil
Campbell (“Campbell”) were given little weight.
Tr. 232-33 Doctor Raul Capitaine's
(“Capitaine”) assessment was given moderate
weight. Tr. 232-33. The ALJ held that considering the age,
education, work experience and functional capacity of
Stallings, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy that she can perform. Tr. 234. Based
on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ stated
those jobs include mailroom clerk (non-postal), price marker,
and electronics worker. Tr. 234. The ALJ denied both claims
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. Tr. 235. The ALJ did not consider the objections
raised by Stalling's representative in the post-hearing
memorandum on the grounds that they were moot because the
objections addressed a vocational expert who did not testify
at the hearing. Tr. 221.
moved for summary judgment arguing she is entitled to Social
Security benefits as a matter of law or that the case should
be remanded for further consideration. Dkt. Nos. 11, 12. Her
motion presents two general issues: 1) the ALJ decision did
not comply with the substantial evidence standard or the
proper procedural standard and the ALJ dismissed or ignored
portions of claimants medical records favorable to a finding
of disability and did not compare the medical facts to the
listings rendering an opinion so devoid of reference that it
did not satisfy the holding of Audler v. Astrue, 501
F.3d. 466 (5th Cir. 2007). 2) Under 20 C.F.R. §
404.970(b), the new evidence supplied to the Appeals Council
is reviewable by this Court under Fifth Circuit
jurisprudence; further, the ALJ's disability
determination is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ failed to develop the record fully before
issuing a decision. Dkt. No. 11 at 2.
Commissioner made a cross motion for summary judgment. Dkt.
No. 15. The Commissioner argues the ALJ's decision is
supported by substantial evidence as shown by a decision that
made a thorough review of the facts. Id. The
Commissioner also argues the ALJ complied with all governing
legal authorities and reviewed the whole record before him.
Id. at 5. Further, the Commissioner argues the ALJ
properly developed the ...