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Guidrioz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 23, 2018


         SECTION “I” (2)



         Plaintiff, Brian Guidroz, [1] seeks judicial review pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1382c. This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.2(B).


         Guidroz filed his applications for DIB and SSI on January 19, 2014, alleging disability since September 1, 2009, due to rheumatoid arthritis. (Tr. 60, 71, 141-50, 167, 172). After his claim was denied at the agency level, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on January 25, 2016. (Tr. 39-57). The ALJ issued a decision denying the application on May 4, 2016. (Tr. 25-33). After the Appeals Council denied review on April 20, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this court's review. (Tr. 1-4).

         Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. Record Doc. No. 17. Defendant filed a timely cross-motion for summary judgment, Record Doc. No. 19, instead of an opposition memorandum, as ordered. Record Doc. No. 18. The court treats plaintiff's summary judgment motion as a memorandum of facts and law regarding his instant appeal from the Commissioner's final decision and treats defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment as a reply memorandum of facts and law.


         Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner made the following errors:

A. The ALJ erred in finding that Guidroz's impairments of degenerative disc disease, pes planus deformity of both feet, and vision impairment (damage of optic nerve, glaucoma, hypertensive retinopathy) are not severe.
B. The ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians.


1. Guidroz meets the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2013.
2. He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of September 1, 2009.
3. He has a severe impairment consisting of rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work, except that he is restricted to occasional postural activities, handling and fingering; and must avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards such as heights and dangerous machinery.
5. His medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms, but his statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely consistent with the medical and other evidence in the record.
6. Guidroz has no past relevant work.
7. Considering his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers that plaintiff can perform, such as security guard, usher and information clerk.
8. Plaintiff has not been under a disability since September 1, 2009 through the date of the ALJ's decision.

(Tr. 19-25).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Standards of Review

         The function of this court on judicial review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the final decision of the Commissioner as trier of fact and whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards in evaluating the evidence. Richard ex rel. Z.N.F. v. Astrue, 480 Fed.Appx. 773, 776 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005)); Stringer v. Astrue, 465 Fed.Appx. 361, 363 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 716 (5th Cir. 2002)). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Richard ex rel. Z.N.F., 480 Fed.Appx. at 776; Stringer, 465 Fed.Appx. at 363-64; Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. This court may not reweigh the evidence in the record, try the issues de novo or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, even if the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Halterman ex rel. Halterman v. Colvin, 544 Fed.Appx. 358, 360 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000)); Stringer, 465 Fed.Appx. at 364. The Commissioner, rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence. McCaskill v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 640 Fed.Appx. 331, 332-33 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Perez, 415 F.3d at 461); Luckey v. Astrue, 458 Fed.Appx. 322, 324 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)); Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.

         The ALJ 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 (1992). Despite this court's limited function, it must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence supports it. Joubert v. Astrue, 287 Fed.Appx. 380, 382 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Perez, 415 F.3d at 461). Any findings of fact by the Commissioner that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Ray v. Barnhart, 163 Fed.Appx. 308, 311 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Perales, 402 U.S. at 390); Perez, 415 F.3d at 461.

         To be considered disabled and eligible for SSI or DIB, [2] 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that provide procedures for evaluating a claim and determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1501 to 404.1599 & appendices, §§ 416.901 to 416.998 (2015). The regulations include a five-step evaluation process for determining whether an impairment prevents a person from engaging in any substantial gainful activity.[3] Id. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Alexander v. Astrue, 412 Fed.Appx. 719, 720 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 447 (5th Cir. 2007)); Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. The five-step inquiry terminates if the Commissioner finds at any step that the claimant is or is not disabled. Id.

         The claimant has the burden of proof under the first four parts of the inquiry. If he successfully carries this burden, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that other substantial gainful employment is available in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. When the Commissioner shows that the claimant is capable of engaging in alternative employment, the burden of proof shifts back to the claimant to rebut this finding. Alexander, 412 Fed.Appx. 720-21; Perez, 415 F.3d at 461.

         The court weighs four elements of proof when determining whether there is substantial evidence of disability: “‘(1) objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses and opinions of treating and examining physicians; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.'” Chrisner v. Astrue, 249 Fed.Appx. 354, 356 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126 (5th Cir. 1991)); accord Perez, 415 F.3d at 463.

         B. Factual Background

         Guidroz testified at the hearing that he was 49 years old and had an eighth grade education. He said he had last worked in 2007 for about one day, but last had a full-time job in 2000, when he was hit by a school bus while working. He stated that he received a worker's compensation settlement in 2004. (Tr. 41). He testified that he was awarded disability benefits by the Commissioner for four or five years, but that his benefits were terminated after he was reevaluated in 2007 or 2009. (Tr. 42).[4] He said he had no other jobs in the past 15 years.

         Plaintiff stated that he lives with his 67-year-old mother, who is employed. He said he does nothing during the day because of his rheumatoid arthritis. (Tr. 43-44). Guidroz testified that he can walk one-half to one mile before he needs to take a break. He said he can only stand for ten minutes and prefers to sit, but that standing up from sitting causes pain. (Tr. 44). He stated that he can sit for only five to ten minutes before he must stand up.

         Plaintiff said he is treated for rheumatoid arthritis by Dr. Luis Espinoza, a rheumatologist. He stated that he was diagnosed with “some femur (PHONETIC) on my lungs[5] caused by the medication I take, ” which makes him short of breath. (Tr. 45). He said he started seeing another doctor, who changed his medication for this condition. (Tr. 45-46).

         Guidroz testified that his rheumatoid arthritis affects him daily from his toes to his neck and that he cannot do much. He said the arthritis “irritates” his hands and feet most of the time so that his fingers lock up and his feet fail when he walks. He stated that he cannot lift anything and that it hurts to stand, walk, bend or do anything. He said he is in pain for 24 hours every day. (Tr. 46).

         Plaintiff testified that he takes pain medication, but it does not help. (Tr. 46-47). He stated that his pain had worsened to the point that he cannot walk or lift his hand. He seemed to say he had improved with medication, but then stated that his condition never goes away and “pretty much all that still goes on . . . with the medication.” (Tr. 47).

         Guidroz stated that his fingers might lock up if he works with them for one-half to one hour, so he tries not to use his fingers much. He said he has no side effects from his medication other than “femur” in his lungs. He stated that his memory is not good anymore and that he can only concentrate on trying to loosen and work his body.

         Plaintiff testified that the worst part of the day is when he gets up in the morning and has “to try to land on my feet. But I, if I do land on my feet, if like I said, walk and help me and it hurt[s] me. . . . [S]o . . . it's a no-win situation . . ., but if I could walk . . ., it pretty much loosen up, or I better move a little better . . . .” (Tr. 48). He continued: “[A]rthritis . . . is just tricky, . . . I don't know what I'm better move in the morning . . . . I might not better raise my hand as high as my head, . . . or . . . either I can raise my hand and I can't move my feet, . . . that's how it really affect[s] my body . ...

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