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D.J.M v. Berryhill

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

April 11, 2019

D.J.M. XXX-XX-4371
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          MARK L. HORNSBY U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         D.J.M. (“Plaintiff”) was 56 years old when she filed an application for supplemental security income. She reported completing the 11th grade and earning a GED. Her previous jobs included housekeeper and maintenance worker, but she did not have any past relevant work within the meaning of the regulations. Plaintiff contended that she was disabled based on impairments including hip and spine problems, gastrointestinal reflux disease (“GERD”), and depression.

         ALJ John Antonowicz held an evidentiary hearing and issued a written decision that found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied a request for review, which made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then filed this civil action to seek the limited judicial review that is available pursuant to 42 USC §405(g). The parties filed written consent to have a decision issued by a magistrate judge, and the case was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 USC § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits will be affirmed.

         Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ analyzed Plaintiff's claim under the five-step sequential analysis established in the regulations. See Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005). He found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her May 22, 2015 application date. At step two, he found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder and right hip, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, GERD, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, moderate somatic symptom disorder with persistent pain, and gastritis and duodenitis. None of the impairments were found to meet or medically equal a listed impairment at step three.

         The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, subject to a number of limitations on reaching overhead, handling items, crouching and kneeling, climbing ladders, balancing, and the like. He also included in the RFC findings that Plaintiff can understand, remember, and carry out three-step instructions; can perform simple and routine tasks; can make simple work-related decisions; can tolerate few if any workplace changes; and can sustain only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors and no interaction with the general public.

         The ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff did not have past relevant work within the meaning of the regulations. He heard testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”) relevant to the step five issue of whether Plaintiff could perform the demands of other jobs. The VE identified representative occupations coffee maker, laundry laborer, and kitchen helper. The ALJ accepted that testimony and found at step five that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         Issues on Appeal

         Plaintiff's brief identifies two issues for appeal:

1. The ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence because he did not explain the rejection of limitations included within consultative examiner Dr. Staats' opinion.
2. The ALJ's finding that Plaintiff has a high school education is conclusory and not supported by substantial evidence.

         Standard of Review; Substantial Evidence

         This court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to two inquiries: (1) whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and (2) whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard. Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla and less than a preponderance.” Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2002). It is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994). A finding of no substantial evidence is justified only if there ...


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