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Scardina v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 27, 2018


         SECTION “I” (3)



         Pro se plaintiff Michael W. Scardina filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying his claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). The matter has been fully briefed on cross-motions for summary judgment, and plaintiff has also filed an opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment. [Doc. #15]. The issues are thus ripe for review. For the following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be DENIED, the Commissioner's cross-motion be GRANTED, and plaintiff's case be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on August 19, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of July 8, 2010. (Adm. Rec. at 139-45, 151). Plaintiff alleged disability due to anxiety, panic disorder, heart problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, hepatitis A-C, panic disorder with agoraphobia, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal polyps, a bulging disk in his neck, and nerve damage in his left hand and arm. (Id. at 154). Plaintiff, born on September 11, 1975, was 35 years old on the date on which he alleged disability and 40 years old at the time of the final administrative decision. (Id. at 186). Plaintiff has a GED and some college education. (Id. at 155). Plaintiff has past work experience as an automobile mechanic. (Id.).

         Defendant initially denied plaintiff's applications on February 27, 2013. (Id. at 86-89). Plaintiff sought an administrative hearing, which defendant held on May 5, 2016. (Id. at 40-65). Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”), Ms. Salenger, testified at the hearing.

         On June 15, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found that plaintiff had not been disabled since August 19, 2014, the date on which plaintiff filed his application. (Id. at 20-36). In the decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the severe impairments of cervical spine degenerative disc disease and affective and anxiety disorders. (Id. at 22). The ALJ held that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment under the regulations. (Id.). The ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (ARFC") to perform sedentary work activity as defined in 20 C.F.R. ' 404.1567(a) except that he is limited to only occasional postural activities and can not engage in overhead work or reaching. (Id. at 24). He also determined that plaintiff is limited to single routine repetitive tasks, can have no close coordination with co-workers or supervisors, and can have no public interaction. (Id.). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff can not perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 35). He concluded, however, that plaintiff can perform the jobs of hand packager, general clerk, and a surveillance system monitor, which jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at 35-36). The ALJ thus denied plaintiff SSI. (Id. at 36).

         Plaintiff asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's conclusion that he is not disabled. (Id. at 10-11). On May 4, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request. (Id. at 2-6). Plaintiff then timely filed this civil action.


         The function of a district court on judicial review is limited to determining whether there is “substantial evidence" in the record, as a whole, to support the final decision of the Commissioner as trier of fact, and whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards to evaluate the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brown v. Apfel, 192 F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir.1999); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir.1995); Carriere v. Sullivan, 944 F.2d 243, 245 (5th Cir.1991). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm them. Martinez, 64 F.3d at 173.

         “Substantial evidence" is that which is relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401(1971); Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002). It is more than a scintilla, but may be less than a preponderance. Spellman v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir.1993). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to support the Commissioner's decision. See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2002).

         A district court may not try the issues de novo, re-weigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Carey v. Apfel, 230 F.3d 131, 135 (5th Cir. 2000); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir.1995); Spellman, 1 F.3d at 360. The Commissioner is entitled to make any finding that is supported by substantial evidence, regardless of whether other conclusions are also permissible. See Arkansas v. Oklahoma, 503 U.S. 91, 112-13 (1992). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Carey, 230 F.3d at 135. Any of the Commissioner's findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Ripley, 67 F.3d at 555. Despite this Court's limited function on review, the Court must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence exists to support it. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir.1992); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir.1990).


         To be considered disabled and eligible for disability benefits under the Act, plaintiff must show that he is unable “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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is considered disabled only if his physical or mental impairment is so severe that he is unable to do not only his previous work, but can not, considering his age, education and work experience, participate in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the area in which he lives, whether a specific job vacancy exists, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(B). The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that provide procedures for evaluating a claim and determining disability. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1501 - 404.1599 & Appendices, ...

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