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Shaffett v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 27, 2017



         Before the Court is a Report and Recommendation (“the Report”) issued by Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby, upholding the denial of Plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 423. Rec. Doc. 14. Plaintiff timely filed timely objections to the Report and requests that this Court consider her case. Rec. Doc. 15-1. For the reasons outlined below, IT IS ORDERED that the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Rec. Doc. 14) is ADOPTED, overruling objections to the same (Rec. Doc. 15), and dismissing instant claims.


         Lisa Shaffett (“Plaintiff”) filed for SSI Benefits on July 1, 2011, alleging a disability that began on October 10, 2009. Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 16. Plaintiff is a forty-three-year-old, 5'8” female with a high school education, who has past relevant work as a resident service specialist. Rec. Doc. 14 at 1. In her brief to this Court, Plaintiff claimed that she suffers from degenerative disc disease with radiculopathy in the cervical and lumbar spine, knee arthritis, interstitial cystitis[1], obesity, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, migraines, hypertension, and congenital heart disease. Rec. Doc. 12 at 1-2.

         Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on October 24, 2011 by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Rec. Doc. 14 at 1. Next, the matter was referred to Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Christopher H. Juge of the SSA, who compiled a residual functional capacity assessment (“RFC”) and, after a hearing on May 9, 2012, denied the claim. Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 19-25. Plaintiff appealed the decision and, after a denial from the Appeals Council, filed a timely complaint with this Court. Rec. Doc. 1 at 1. The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Roby to evaluate the claim and submit proposed findings and recommendations pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Rec. Doc. 14. She issued a Report recommending that this Court affirm the ALJ's decision. Id. at 15.


         The Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's SSI benefits. Rec. Doc. 14 at 15. She specifically found that the ALJ's findings of non-severe interstitial cystitis, and non-disabling ailments, either singularly or in combination, were supported by substantial evidence. Rec. Doc. 14 at 7-8. She further observed substantial evidence of record supported the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff is capable of light work. Rec. Doc. 14 at 15. She also found that the RFC did not need to include symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Id. at 9-15.

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         Judicial review of any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to (1) whether the final decision is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the Commissioner has applied the proper legal standards when evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting McQueen v. Apfel, 168 F.3d 152, 157 n.2 (5th Cir. 1995)). The Court may not reweigh the evidence, try the case de novo, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994).

         If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, then those findings are conclusive and the Court must affirm them. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and less than a preponderance, and is considered relevant evidence such that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a conclusion. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995)(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). This Court cannot reweigh the evidence unless this Court fails to find substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). Nevertheless, this Court must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence exists to support it. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990); Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988).

         The Court “weigh[s] four elements of proof when determining whether there is substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnosis and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) his age, education, and work history.” Hendricks v. Apfel, No. 99-1212, 2000 WL 174884, at *3 (E.D. La. Feb. 14, 2000) (citing Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995)). A reviewing court can only find “no substantial evidence” where there is a “conspicuous absence of credible choices” or “no contrary medical evidence.” Johnson, 864 F.2d at 343-44 (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983)).

         Plaintiff objects that the Commissioner failed to use the proper legal standard and that his decisions are unsupported by substantial evidence for the following findings under the sequential evaluation process[2]: (1) that interstitial cystitis is not a severe condition, (2) that the RFC need not include the interstitial cystitis symptoms, and (3) that Plaintiff is capable of light work. Rec Doc. 15-1.

         1. The ALJ and Magistrate Judge used the correct legal standard to determine whether Plaintiff's interstitial cystitis is a severe condition.

         Under step two, the ALJ report lists the following impairments as severe: “degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and anxiety.” Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 18. The ALJ found that these conditions are severe impairments under both the Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099 (5th Cir. 1985), standard and 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c). Id. However, the ALJ report did not include interstitial cystitis as a severe impairment.

         To find that Plaintiff's interstitial cystitis was a non-severe condition, the Commissioner weighed the ability of the condition to improve with treatment with the actual physical impact on her ability to work. Rec. Doc. 13 at 4-5. This analysis comports with the Stone v. Heckler standard that an impairment is not a severe impairment “only if it is a slight abnormality having such minimal effect on the individual that it would not be expected to interfere with the individual's ability to work.” 752 F.2d at 1099. The Commissioner found that Plaintiff's interstitial cystitis has minimal effect on her ...

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