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Hemmingson v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

January 14, 2020




         Before the Court are the Plaintiff's Opening Brief, filed on October 14, 2019 (Dkt. No. 14), and the Defendant's Brief in Support of the Commissioner's Decision, filed on December 12, 2109 (Dkt. No. 16). Also before the Court is the Social Security record filed in this case (“Tr.”) (Dkt. No. 10).


         Plaintiff Jonathan Douglas Hemmingson (“Plaintiff”), who is 55 years old, has a high school education and two years of college. Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled on September 2, 2014, due to depression, anxiety, and left shoulder pain.[1] Plaintiff alleges that these impairments began a short time after he underwent rotator cuff surgery in September 2013. Before his alleged disability onset date, Plaintiff served four-and-a-half years in the United States Navy, and then worked as a hotel sales representative and horticultural/nursery products salesperson. In addition, Plaintiff attempted to engage in work in the garden department of Home Depot after his alleged disability onset date, but he alleges that panic attacks forced him to stop working. Plaintiff has a total of 32 years of covered earnings before his alleged disability onset date.

         On January 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed his application for disability insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration (the “Agency”). After the Agency denied his application initially and again on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. Plaintiff attended an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Osley F. Deramus on July 5, 2016. On August 24, 2016, ALJ Deramus issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.

         Plaintiff timely filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and, on September 29, 2017, the Appeals Council vacated and remanded the decision to the ALJ. In its remand order, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to give further consideration to the state agency opinion, acknowledge Plaintiff's age change from a “younger” individual to one “closely approaching advanced age, ” address the discrepancy regarding Plaintiff's amended onset date, and offer Plaintiff another hearing. After remand, a second hearing was held before ALJ Tresie Kinnell (hereafter the “ALJ”) on March 6, 2018. On August 13, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's entitlement to disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 16-28). Plaintiff again filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council, which was denied on May 9, 2019. Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and now seeks judicial review of the administrative proceedings under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The Social Security Act defines “disability” as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine if a claimant is unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” and therefore is disabled, the Social Security Commissioner uses a five-step analysis. In the first four steps, the claimant must prove that:

1. He is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. His impairment (or combination of impairments) is “severe, ” in that it significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities;
3. His impairment is medically equivalent to one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations; and
4. He is incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work.
5. If the claimant succeeds at all four of the preceding steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove, considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and past work experience, that he is capable of performing other work. If the Commissioner proves other work exists which the claimant can perform, he is given the chance to prove that he cannot, in fact, perform that work.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 435 (5th Cir. 1994); Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 618 (5th Cir. 1990). A finding of disability or no disability at any step is conclusive and terminates the analysis. G ...

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