United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
CECILIA A. FRANCESCON
NANCY W. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
G. JAMES, JUDGE.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
L. HAYES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE 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
AFFIRMED, and this matter
DISMISSED with prejudice.
& Procedural History
October 7, 2014, Cecilia Francescon protectively filed the
instant application for Title II Disability Insurance
Benefits. (Tr. 115-118). She alleged disability as of
December 22, 2013, because of a back injury. (Tr. 139, 143).
The state agency denied the claim at the initial stage of the
administrative process. (Tr. 74-87). Thereafter, Francescon
requested and received a hearing on October 9, 2015, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 60-73).
In a November 6, 2015, written decision, the ALJ determined
that Francescon was not disabled under the Social Security
Act, finding at step four of the sequential evaluation
process that she was able to return to her past relevant work
as a sales clerk for watches/jewelry and/or dresses. (Tr.
16-28). Francescon appealed the adverse decision to the
Appeals Council. On December 20, 2016, however, the Appeals
Council denied Francescon's request for review; thus the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).
January 24, 2017, Francescon filed the instant, pro se
complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. Following submission of the administrative
transcript and supporting memoranda, the matter is now before
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).
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 “not disabled” will be made.
(5) If an individual is unable to perform past relevant work,
then other factors including age, education, past work
experience, and residual functional capacity must be
considered to determine whether the individual can make an
adjustment to other work in the economy.
See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 -705
(5th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The
claimant bears the burden of proving a disability under the
first four steps of the analysis; under the fifth step,
however, the Commissioner must show that the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy and is
therefore not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n. 5 (1987). When a finding of
“disabled” or “not disabled” may be
made at any step, the process is terminated. Villa v.
Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990). If at any
point during the five-step review the claimant is ...