United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
KAWANDA M. CAPERS
NANCY W. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
G. JAMES JUDGE.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
L. HAYES MAG. JUDGE.
the court is plaintiff's petition for review of the
Commissioner's denial of social security disability
benefits. The district court referred the matter to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for proposed
findings of fact and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). For the reasons assigned below,
it is recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be
REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.
& Procedural History
Capers filed the instant application for Title II Disability
Insurance Benefits on August 1, 2013. (Tr. 23, 118-119). She
alleged disability as of June 1, 2013, because of major
depressive disorder with psychotic features, “OCD,
” high blood pressure, acid reflux, and a July 1, 2013,
nervous breakdown. (Tr. 122, 126). The state agency denied
the claims at the initial stage of the administrative
process. (Tr. 57-70). Thereafter, Capers requested and
received an August 13, 2014, hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 36-56). However, in a
February 23, 2015, written decision, the ALJ determined that
Capers was not disabled under the Act, finding at step five
of the sequential evaluation process that she was able to
make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 20-32).
appealed the adverse decision to the Appeals Council. On July
28, 2016, however, the Appeals Council denied her request for
review; thus, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).
September 28, 2016, Capers filed the instant complaint for
judicial review. Succinctly re-characterized, she alleges the
1) for various reasons, the ALJ's residual functional
capacity assessment regarding the effects of plaintiff's
mental impairments is not supported by substantial evidence;
2) the ALJ' step five determination is not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ's hypothetical to
the vocational expert did not include all of plaintiff's
limitations of functioning.
court's standard of review is (1) whether substantial
evidence of record supports the ALJ's determination, and
(2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal
standards. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021
(5th Cir. 1990). Where the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, the findings
therein are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence when the decision is reached by applying improper
legal standards. Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 818
(5th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. at 401. Substantial evidence lies somewhere between a
scintilla and a preponderance. Muse v. Sullivan, 925
F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991). A finding of no substantial
evidence is proper when no credible medical findings or
evidence support the ALJ's determination. Johnson v.
Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). The
reviewing court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues
de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236
(5th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).
to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), individuals
who contribute to the program throughout their lives are
entitled to payment of insurance benefits if they suffer from
a physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(a)(1)(D). The SSA defines a 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 12 months . . . .” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). Based on a claimant's age,
education, and work experience, the SSA utilizes a broad
definition of substantial gainful employment that is not
restricted by a claimant's previous form of work or the
availability of other acceptable forms of work. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Furthermore, a disability may
be based on the combined effect of multiple impairments
which, if considered individually, would not be of the
requisite severity under the SSA. See 20 C.F.R.
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration has
established a five-step sequential evaluation process that
the agency uses to determine whether a claimant is disabled
under the SSA. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. The steps are as follows,
(1) An individual who is performing substantial gainful
activity will not be found disabled regardless of medical
(2) An individual who does not have a “severe
impairment” of the requisite duration will not be found
(3) An individual whose impairment(s) meets or equals a
listed impairment in [20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1]
will be considered disabled without the consideration of
(4) If an individual's residual functional capacity is
such that he or she can still perform past relevant work,
then a finding of ...