United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lisa Pounds Bradshaw (“Bradshaw”) filed this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review
of the denial by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) of her application for a period
of disability, disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”), and widow's insurance benefits
(“WIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“SSA”); and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments under Title XVI. ECF Nos. 1 and
17. After considering the pleadings, briefs, and the
administrative record, the undersigned
RECOMMENDS that United States District Judge
Mark T. Pittman AFFIRM the
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
March 22, 2016, Bradshaw filed applications for a period of
disability, DIB, and WIB. See SSA Admin. R.
(hereinafter, “Tr.”) 15, ECF No. 14-1. She also
filed an application for SSI on July 8, 2015. Id. In
all applications, Bradshaw alleged that her disability began
on June 3, 2015. Id. The Commissioner initially
denied her claim on January 29, 2016 and denied it again on
reconsideration on March 9, 2016. Id. Bradshaw
requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Kevin Batik on May 24, 2017 in Fort
Worth, Texas, with Bradshaw and her attorney present.
Id. The ALJ issued his decision on November 15,
2017, finding that Bradshaw was not disabled. Tr. 12, 28.
the ALJ employed the statutory five-step analysis and
established during step one that Bradshaw had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 3, 2015, the alleged
onset date. Tr. 18. At step two, he determined that
Bradshaw's combined physical impairments constituted a
severe impairment, comprised of degenerative disc disease of
the cervical and lumbar spine, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy,
carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, osteoarthritis, bursitis of
the hips, heel spur, obstructive sleep apnea, and asthma.
Id. The ALJ further considered, inter alia,
the four areas of mental functioning also known as the
“paragraph B” criteria and found that
Bradshaw's mental impairment was not severe because it
caused no more than mild limitation in any of the functional
areas. Tr. 19. At step three, the ALJ found that
Bradshaw's impairments did not meet or equal in
combination one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt.
404(p). Tr. 20. At step four, the ALJ ruled that Bradshaw had
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except she can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
Tr. 20. The ALJ further found that Bradshaw can have no more
than occasional exposure to dust, fumes, odors, and pulmonary
irritants; can frequently handle, finger, and reach with the
bilateral upper extremities; and cannot climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds, or use foot controls. Id.
Additionally, the ALJ held that Bradshaw is unable to perform
any past relevant work as a caregiver, home attendant,
billing clerk, or assembler. Tr. 26. At step five, the ALJ
found that considering Bradshaw's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Bradshaw could perform.
Appeals Council denied review on October 1, 2018. Tr. 1.
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.”).
to her pleadings, testimony at the administrative hearing,
and the administrative record, Bradshaw was born on July 29,
1966 and has at least a high school education. Tr. 26. Her
employment history includes work as a caregiver, home
attendant, billing clerk, and assembler. Id. She
asserts that a combination of impairments renders her
disabled under the SSA. Tr. 247.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
II, 42 U.S.C. § 404 et seq., of the SSA governs
the disability insurance program in addition to numerous
regulations concerning disability insurance. See 20
C.F.R. § 404. The SSA defines a disability as a
“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” that
prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful
activity. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); McQueen v. Apfel,
168 F.3d 152, 154 (5th Cir. 1999).
determine whether a claimant is disabled and thus entitled to
disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a sequential
five-step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, the
claimant must not be presently working at any substantial
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).
“Substantial gainful activity” means work
activity involving the use of significant physical or mental
abilities for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527;
Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 271 n.2 (5th
Cir. 2002). Second, the claimant must have an impairment or
combination of impairments that is severe. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c); see Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099,
1100-03 (5th Cir. 1985). Third, disability exists if the
impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an
impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments
(“Listing”), 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if the claimant's
medical status alone does not constitute a disability, the
impairment or impairments must prevent the claimant from
returning to her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Fifth, the impairment must prevent the claimant
from doing any work, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(f); Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 197, 197-98
(5th Cir. 1999). “The claimant bears the burden of
showing that [she] is 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 v.
Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 2007). Before
proceeding to steps four and five, the Commissioner must
assess a claimant's RFC-“the most [a claimant] can
still do despite [his] limitation.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.945(a)(1); Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461
(5th Cir. 2005).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole
supports the decision. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d
558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995); Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d
1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). “Substantial evidence is
such relevant evidence as a responsible mind might accept to
support a conclusion.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001). “It is more than a mere
scintilla and less than a preponderance.” Id.
“A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate
only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings
support the decision.” Id. The Court may
neither reweigh the evidence in the record nor substitute its
judgment for the Commissioner's, but it will carefully
scrutinize the record to determine if evidence is present.
Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir. 2000);
Hollis, 837 F.2d at 1383. “Conflicts in the
evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to
resolve.” Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Selders v. Sullivan, 914
F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)).
raises two issues on appeal. She claims that (1) the ALJ
failed to evaluate the medical opinion evidence consistent
with the applicable regulations, agency policy, and Fifth
Circuit precedent; and (2) the ALJ erred in his credibility
assessment by failing to take into consideration