United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
MICHAEL L. HILLS, SR.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
RICHARD L. BOURGEOIS, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
L. Hills, Sr. (“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 AFFIRMED and Plaintiff's
appeal is DISMISSED with prejudice.
filed his application for disability insurance benefits (Tr.
92-93) on June 30, 2014, alleging that he became disabled on
April 1, 2013 because of a disabling condition, namely gout,
arthritis, fibromyalgia, abnormal immunological finding in
serum positive ANA, joint pain, elevated C-reactive protein
(CRP), other malaise and fatigue, and unspecified vitamin D
deficiency. (Tr. 115). Plaintiff's application was
initially denied by an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), who first held an administrative hearing
(Tr. 29-52) before issuing an unfavorable decision on October
21, 2015. (Tr. 15-28). Plaintiff's request for review of
the ALJ's decision (Tr. 12-14) was denied by the Appeals
Council on December 8, 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 on March 31, 2014.
2. Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from his alleged onset date of April 1,
2013 through is date last insured of March 31, 2014.
3. Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: occasional
gout flares with pain and joint swelling.
4. Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of ...