United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CHRISTINA A. BRYAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Pamela Ong filed this case under the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) for review of the
Commissioner's final decision denying her request for
supplemental security income. Ong and the Commissioner moved
for summary judgment. Dkts. 15, 16. After considering the
pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the court
DENIES Ong's motion,
GRANTS the Commissioner's motion, and
AFFIRMS the decision of the
Factual and Administrative History
filed her claim for social security benefits on October 1,
2015 alleging the onset of disability as of that date. Tr. at
11. The agency denied her claims on initial review and
reconsideration. The administrative law judge (ALJ) held
video hearings on January 18, 2017 and August 3, 2017 at
which Ong and a vocational expert, Wallace A. Stanfill,
testified. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Ong
benefits on September 22, 2017. The Appeals Council denied
review on July 31, 2018 and the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.984(b)(2) and 416.1484(b)(2).
Standard of Review
court review of the Commissioner's final decision to deny
Social Security benefits is limited to two inquiries: (1)
whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard;
and (2) whether the Commissioner's decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Garcia v. Berryhill, 880
F.3d 700, 704 (5th Cir. 2018); Copeland v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014). When
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the court does not
reweigh the evidence, try the questions de novo, or
substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner.
Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir.
2002) (quoting Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452
(5th Cir. 2000)). Conflicts in the evidence are for the
Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Id.
Disability Determination Standards
Social Security 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 twelve months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The ALJ must follow a five-step
sequential analysis to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
first step, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is currently
working or “engaged in substantial gainful
activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled. In the
second step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has
a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant's
impairment does not have a de minimis impact on her ability
to work, she is not disabled. Salmond v. Berryhill,
892 F.3d 812, 817 (5th Cir. 2018). The third step of the
sequential analysis requires the ALJ to determine whether the
claimant's severe impairment meets or medically equals
one of the listings in the regulation known as Appendix 1. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii);
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If so, the
claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ must determine the
claimant's “residual functional capacity”
(RFC). “The RFC is the individual's ability to do
physical and mental tasks on a sustained basis despite
limitations from her impairments.” Giles v.
Astrue, 433 Fed.Appx. 241, 245 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing
20 C.F.R. §404.1545). At step four, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant's RFC permits her to perform her
past relevant work. If the answer is no, the ALJ determines
at step five whether the claimant can perform any other work
that exists in the national economy. Fraga v. Bowen,
810 F.2d 1296, 1304 (5th Cir. 1987). The claimant bears the
burden to prove disability at steps one through four, but the
burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Newton, 209 F.3d at 452-53.
The ALJ's Decision
performed the standard 5-step sequential analysis. The ALJ
found that Ong did not engage in substantial gainful activity
after her alleged onset date of October 1, 2015. Tr. at 13.
The ALJ found that Ong had the severe impairments of
“lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, asthma,
obesity, edema in her lower extremities, and left carpal
tunnel syndrome, ” none of which met or equaled the
severity of a listed impairment. Id. at 13-15.
next found that Ong had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work, with the following additional
[C]laimant can stand and/or walk for no more than four hours
with normal breaks and she can sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. The clamant who is right handed can also
occasionally balance, stoop, bend, kneel, crawl, crouch, and
climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds. Moreover, the claimant can occasionally handle,
finger, and feel with her left upper extremity. The claimant
can also perform occasional bilateral overhead reaching.
Additionally, the claimant can have occasional exposure to
temperature extremes, damp or dry conditions, gas, fumes,
dust, smoke, chemicals, hazards, dangerous equipment or
machinery, and unprotected heights, and she can occasionally
drive and use foot controls bilaterally. Finally, ...