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Miller v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

January 22, 2019




         In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties consented to have this matter resolved by the undersigned Magistrate Judge, and it was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of judgment. [Rec. Doc. 12]. Before the Court is an appeal of the Commissioner's finding of non-disability. Considering the administrative record, the briefs of the parties, and the applicable law, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         Administrative Proceedings

         The claimant, Jude Leonard Miller, fully exhausted his administrative remedies before filing this action in federal court. On September 23, 2014, he filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) alleging that he became disabled on June 1, 2014. R. 10, p. 5. His applications were denied. Tr. p. 17. He requested a hearing, which was held on August 15, 2016 before Administrative Law Judge Christine Hilleren. Tr. p. 38. The ALJ decided that the claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from June 1, 2014 (the alleged disability onset date) through October 5, 2016 (the date of the decision). Claimant requested review of the decision, but the Appeals Council found no basis for review. Tr. 17. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for the purpose of the Court's review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Claimant then filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         Summary of Pertinent Facts

         The claimant was born in 1973. At the time of the ALJ's decision, he was 40 years old. He went to the 10th grade, has a “limited education, ” Tr. 36. 54-55, and has relevant work experience as a rigger and crane operator. Id. Claimant alleged that he has been disabled since June 1, 2014 due to anxiety, intellectual impairment and alcohol abuse.


         A. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits is limited to determining whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the proper legal standards were used in evaluating the evidence. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983) Substantial evidence “must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but ‘no substantial evidence' will only be found when there is a ‘conspicuous absence of credible choices' or ‘no contrary medical evidence.'” Id.

         If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir. 1995). In reviewing the Commissioner's findings, a court must carefully examine the entire record, but refrain from re-weighing the evidence or substituting its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d at 1022. Conflicts in the evidence, Scott v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 482, 485 (5th Cir. 1985), and credibility assessments, Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126 (5th Cir. 1991), are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Four elements of proof are weighed by the courts in determining if substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's determination: (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 experience. Id.

         B. Entitlement to Benefits

         The DIB program provides income to individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled, regardless of indigence. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). If unmarried and between fifty and sixty years old, the widow of a fully insured individual is entitled to widow's insurance benefits if she is disabled and her disability began no more than seven years after the wage earner's death or seven years after he was last entitled to survivor's benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 402(e); 20 C.F.R. § 404.335. Every individual who meets certain income and resource requirements, has filed an application for benefits, and is determined to be disabled is eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(1) & (2).

         A person is disabled “if 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are so severe that he is unable to not only do his previous work, but cannot, 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 the claimant lives, whether a specific job vacancy exists, or whether the claimant would be hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         C. Evaluation Process ...

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