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Riera v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 8, 2018


         SECTION: “A” (5)



         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Local Rule 73.2(B), this matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment following a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and her concomitant request for Medicare Part A coverage under the Social Security Act. (Rec. docs. 15, 16).

         Lillian C. Riera, Plaintiff herein, filed the subject application for DIB on October 23, 2014, alleging disability as of November 2, 2010. (Tr. pp. 117-118). In a “Disability Report-Adult” form that appears in the administrative record below, the conditions limiting Plaintiff's ability to work were identified as kidney cancer causing the loss of one such organ, radiation damage to the spine, chronic pain issues due to radiation damage, a fusion to the back to stabilize the damage, and osteoporosis. (Tr. p. 148). Plaintiff's application for DIB was denied at the initial level of the Commissioner's administrative review process on May 13, 2015. (Tr. pp. 83-86). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) went forward on March 11, 2016 at which Plaintiff, who was unrepresented by counsel, and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) appeared and testified. (Tr. pp. 115-116, 114, 49-73). On April 20, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled and was thus not entitled to Medicare coverage under the Social Security Act. (Tr. pp. 11-27). The Appeals Council (“AC”) subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on May 4, 2017, thus making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. pp. 4-8). It is from that unfavorable decision that the Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         In her pro se cross-motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff broadly challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the Commissioner's decision, attaching to her complaint a number of medical records that pre-date and post-date the ALJ's decision. (Rec. doc. 1, pp. 27-80). Relevant to the resolution of Plaintiff's challenge are the following findings that were made by the ALJ:

1. The claimant does not meet the insured status requirements for purposes of entitlement to disability insurance cash benefits, but she does meet the special insured requirements for Medicare purposes through June 30, 2017, based on her Medicare qualified government employment.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 2, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and history of nephrectomy. The claimant has the following non-severe impairment: hypothyroidism (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except frequent climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on August 8, 1963 and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 2, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

(Tr. pp. 16, 17, 18, 22, 23).

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny DIB is limited under 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence of record supports the Commissioner's decision and (2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal standards. Estate of Morris v. Shalala, 207 F.3d 744, 745 (5th Cir. 2000); Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 1992); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990); Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1302 (5th Cir. 1987). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420 (1971). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to support the Commissioner's decision. Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 702 F.2d 616, 620 (5th Cir. 1983). The Court may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, nor may it substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir. 1985). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Patton v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983).

         A claimant seeking DIB bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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). Once the claimant carries her initial burden, the Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is capable of performing substantial gainful activity and is, therefore, not ...

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