United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Collins (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) denying Plaintiff's application for
Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act.
(R. Doc. 1). Having found all of the procedural prerequisites
met (Tr. 1-6), the Court has properly reviewed
Plaintiff's appeal. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (“The Appeals Council's
decision, or the decision of the administrative law judge if
the request for review is denied, is binding unless
you… file an action in Federal district
court…”). For the reasons given below, the Court
ORDERS that the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and
this matter is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent
with this Ruling.
filed his application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income (Tr. 131-140) on May 20, 2014,
alleging that he became disabled on November 9, 2009 because
of a disabling condition, namely bad hip, bad knee, bad back,
hand, legs and feet. (Tr. 132). Plaintiff's application
was initially denied by an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), who first held an administrative hearing
(Tr. 33-55) before issuing a partially unfavorable decision
on July 26, 2015. (Tr. 17-34). Plaintiff's request for
review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 13-14) was denied by
the Appeals Council on December 28, 2016. (Tr. 1-6). The
ALJ's decision rested as the Commissioner's final
decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial
evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner and
whether the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 162 (5th
Cir. 1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021
(5th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence has been defined as
“‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'”
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y. v. N.L.R.B., 305
U.S. 197, 229 (1938) (defining “substantial
evidence” in the context of the National Labor
Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 160(e)). The Fifth Circuit
has further held that substantial evidence “must do
more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to
be established, but no substantial evidence will be found
only where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices
or no contrary medical evidence.” Hames v.
Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983) (quotations
omitted). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner
“and not the courts to resolve.” Selders v.
Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). The Court
may not reweigh the evidence, try the case de novo,
or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner
even if it finds that the evidence preponderates against the
Commissioner's decision. See, e.g., Bowling v.
Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994) (“This
is so because substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance but more than a scintilla.”); Hollis
v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988) (“In
applying the substantial evidence standard, we must carefully
scrutinize the record to determine if, in fact, such evidence
is present; at the same time, however, we may neither reweigh
the evidence in the record nor substitute our judgment for
the Secretary's.”); Harrell v. Bowen, 862
F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988) (same).
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, then it is conclusive and must be upheld.
Estate of Morris v. Shalala, 207 F.3d 744, 745 (5th
Cir. 2000). If, on the other hand, the Commissioner fails to
apply the correct legal standards, or fails to provide a
reviewing court with a sufficient basis to determine that the
correct legal principles were followed, it is grounds for
reversal. Bradley v. Bowen, 809 F.2d 1054, 1057 (5th
determining disability, the Commissioner (through an ALJ)
works through a five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The burden
rests upon the claimant throughout the first four steps of
this five-step process to prove disability. If the claimant
is successful in sustaining his or her burden at each of the
first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at
step five. See Muse v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789
(5th Cir. 1991) (explaining the five-step process). First,
the claimant must prove he or she is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
Second, the claimant must prove his or her impairment is
“severe” in that it “significantly limits
your physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities…” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At
step three, the ALJ must conclude the claimant is disabled if
he or she proves that his or her impairments meet or are
medically equivalent to one of the impairments contained in
the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d) (step three of sequential process); 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app'x 1 (Listing of Impairments). Fourth,
the claimant bears the burden of proving he or she is
incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of his
or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
claimant is successful at all four of the preceding steps
then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove,
considering the claimant's residual functional capacity,
age, education and past work experience, that he or she is
capable of performing other work. 20 C.F.R §
404.1520(g)(1). If the Commissioner proves other work exists
which the claimant can perform, the claimant is given the
chance to prove that he or she cannot, in fact, perform that
work. Muse, 925 F.2d at 789.
the ALJ made the following determinations:
1. Plaintiff had met the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
2. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since November 9, 2009.
3. From November 9, 2009 through February 13, 2014, Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: reconstructive surgery
of weight bearing joint and facture of lower lib status-post
ORIF of left lateral plateau fracture.
4. From November 9, 2009 through February 13, 2014, Plaintiff
did not meet or medically equal a Listing.
5. From November 9, 2009 through February 13, 2014, Plaintiff
retained the RFC to perform light work, except he could
lift/carry 10 lbs. frequently, 20 lbs. occasionally,
sit/stand/walk 2 hours in an 8-hour work day with unlimited
push/pull, frequently balance, stoop, and climb ramps/stairs,
occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, and would miss at
least 3 days per month and require use of a cane to assist
6. From November 9, 2009 through February 13, 2014, Plaintiff
was unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. Plaintiff was a younger individual as of the disability
8. Plaintiff had at least a high school education and is able
to communicate in English.
9. Plaintiff's acquired job skills did not transfer to
other occupations within the residual functional capacity.
10. From November 9, 2009 through February 13, 2014, and
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and residual functional capacity, there were no jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could have performed.
11. Plaintiff was disabled from November 9, 2009 through
February 13, 2014.
the case here, if the claimant is found disabled at any point
in the above process, the Commissioner must then determine if
his or her disability continues through the date of the
ALJ's decision. A cessation of disability benefits
requires a finding of medical improvement. A finding of
medical improvement requires consideration of whether the
claimant: (1) is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity; (2) has an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals one listed in the regulations;
(3) has experienced medical improvement; (4) has experienced
medical improvement that is related to the ability to work;
(5) has experienced medical improvement, but an exception to
the medical improvement applies; (6) has current impairments
that when considered in combination are severe; (7) can
perform past relevant work; and (8) can perform other work
that exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §
period after February 13, 2014, the ALJ made the following
determinations about Plaintiff's ability to engage in
substantial gainful activity:
12. Plaintiff had not developed any new impairment or
impairments since February 14, 2014, the date his disability
such that his severe impairments are the same as those