Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Verrett v. Saul

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

July 18, 2019

JEANETTE VERRETT
v.
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

          JUNEAU MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         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, it is recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed and this matter dismissed with prejudice.

         Administrative Proceedings

         The claimant, Jeannette Verrett, fully exhausted her administrative remedies before filing this action in federal court. She filed applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”), alleging disability beginning on May 1, 2012.[1] Her applications were denied.[2] She requested a hearing, which was held on March 21, 2017 before Administrative Law Judge Thomas G. Henderson.[3] The ALJ issued a decision on June 1, 2017, concluding that the claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from June 27, 2013 (her modified alleged disability onset date) through the date of the decision.[4] The claimant requested Appeals Council review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council found no basis for review.[5] Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for the purpose of the Court's review.[6] The claimant then initiated this action, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

         Summary of Pertinent Facts

         The claimant was born on February 25, 1962.[7] At the time of the ALJ's decision, she was fifty-five years old. She completed the twelfth grade[8] and has relevant work experience as a busser in a casino, a cook, and a security guard.[9] She alleged that she has been disabled since June 27, 2013 due to low back pain, arthritis in her knees, depression, anxiety, COPD, and breathing problems.[10]

         On August 12, 2012, the claimant went to the emergency room at Iberia Medical Center in New Iberia, Louisiana, complaining of retrosternal chest pain.[11]She described the pain as sharp and stated that it lasted for half an hour to an hour and radiated into both of her arms. She also complained of shortness of breath. An EKG showed left ventricular hypertrophy with nonspecific abnormalities. Her cardiac enzymes were normal but troponins were elevated. She was taking twelve medications: aspirin (treats pain and inflammation), nitroglycerin (treats chest pain), Protonix (treats acid reflux), Ativan (treats anxiety), Lisinopril (treats high blood pressure), Hydrochlorothiazide (treats high blood pressure), Lexapro (treats anxiety and depression), Apresoline (treats high blood pressure), Minoxidil (helps hair growth), Toprol (treats angina and high blood pressure), Tylenol (treats pain and fever), and Zofran (treats nausea and vomiting). Dr. Robert Lewis's impressions were: chest pain, angina, hypertension, left ventricular hypertrophy, elevated troponins, tobacco abuse, unknown lipid profile, and history of anxiety. His plan was aggressive secondary prevention for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, including a dobutamine stress echocardiogram and deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis. He also advised the claimant to stop smoking.

         Two weeks later, on August 24, 2012, the claimant returned to Iberia Medical Center for a cardiac catheterization procedure.[12] Her preoperative and postoperative diagnoses were chest pain and positive dobutamine stress test. Her blood pressure was 150/80. Dr. Lewis's impressions were hypertension, elevated left ventricular end-diastolic pressure, coronary arteries with luminal irregularities, and a left ventricular ejection fraction of 55% or more[13] without segmental wall motion abnormalities. His plan was to continue medical treatment.

         On January 2, 2014, the claimant visited Family Nurse Practitioner Candice Miller at the Teche Action Clinic in Franklin, Louisiana.[14] She complained of an aggravating dry cough for two months. She gave a history of pneumonia in 2012, high blood pressure for two years, and arthritis for two years. She reported a hospitalization in 2012 for shortness of breath and heart issues.[15] The treatment note listed the following problems: unspecified essential hypertension, tobacco use disorder, obesity, microscopic hematuria, Vitamin D deficiency, lack of exercise, and chest pain. She was already taking aspirin, garlic capsules, ibuprofen, Lexapro (treats anxiety and depression), Xanax (treats anxiety), Zyrtec (treats allergies), and Norvasc (treats high blood pressure). The claimant reported no pain. She stated that she smoked half a pack of cigarettes per day and had done so for thirty-five years. She had followed up with regard to microscopic hematuria and was asymptomatic. She had no joint pain, muscle pain, or muscle weakness. Lisinopril was discontinued and Benicar was added (both treat high blood pressure). She was to return in one month for a blood pressure check and in four months for follow up. She was counseled to stop smoking.

         On February 15, 2014, the claimant was examined by Dr. Mark M. Fujita for the purpose of assisting the state disability office in making a determination of disability.[16] She told Dr. Fujita that she had fallen in 2009 and had multiple MRIs that showed bulging discs in her low back. She complained of back pain with standing for long periods of time but denied numbness, tingling, or weakness in her legs. She stated that she took Tylenol and an anti-inflammatory medication for her back pain. She also related the fall in 2009 to knee pain. She said that her knees had been x-rayed and that she had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. She stated that she was not taking any medications for her knees and that they were painful only during weather changes. The claimant also told Dr. Fujita that she became depressed after being hospitalized for a heart murmur and had to stop working. She reported that she also suffered from anxiety. She stated that she had panic attacks, which she controlled with breathing exercises and behavioral therapy. The claimant explained that she was taking two medications for high blood pressure, after having been diagnosed with hypertension five years earlier. She reported having throbbing headaches about twice per week for an hour. She stated that her anxiety provoked the headaches, which were relieved with over-the-counter medications. The claimant explained that she would be having further testing with a cardiologist related to her heart murmur.

         Upon examination, the claimant ambulated without difficulty and was able to get on and off the exam table without difficulty. She was able to dress and undress herself. She was able to walk on her heels, walk on her toes, and walk heel-to-toe without difficulty. Her gait was normal and she did not require an assistive device. She had full lumbar spine flexion and hip flexion. Straight leg raise tests were negative bilaterally in both the supine and sitting positions. X-rays showed a normal spine except for a narrow disc space at L5-S1. She had a decreased range of motion in her knees but they were not swollen and she had normal leg strength. She also stated that she was able to trust her knees and felt that they were strong. The claimant told Dr. Fujita that she had experienced depression since being unable to work. She also stated that a recent cardiac work-up was stressful. She denied suicidal or homicidal ideation and stated that she was taking Lexapro, Xanax, and Cetirizine (an antihistamine) to help with her mood. Despite taking these medications, she stated that she continued to have panic attacks approximately every other day. She denied being anxious. Dr. Fujita noted that her speech and hygiene were good, she had a normal personal affect, and she had good interpersonal skills. Furthermore, she “was able to perform all maneuvers without difficulty.”

         On April 9, 2014, psychologist Lynn L. Guidry, Ph.D. examined the claimant and then prepared a consultative examination report.[17] Dr. Guidry observed that the claimant had a slightly unsteady gait and used a walking cane. She was adequately oriented to the situation. She stated that her back and leg were hurting and she was a little dizzy. She cried a few times while discussing her social history. She spoke logically and relevantly in a simplistic manner. Dr. Guidry noted no evidence of current or past psychotic content or processes. He found that she had adequate immediate recall, her short-term memory was intact, and her long-term memory was adequate for giving a social history. He further found that her abstract thinking skills were somewhat deficient and her general verbal intelligence was in the low average range. He noted that she was able to describe her symptoms and repeat medical advice. Her insight was functional and intact while her judgment was maladaptive at times in that she was not obtaining complete mental health treatment although her psychiatrist had recommended counseling in addition to medication. However, in Dr. Guidry's opinion, her judgment was functional for daily living activities. The claimant reported that she had back pain, knee pain, a heart murmur, and high blood pressure. She stated that she had been on medication for anxiety and depression for about two years. She denied ever being hospitalized for mental issues and denied having had mental health treatment prior to her current treatment. She stated that the medication she was taking worked well but she still had a few panic attacks per week, each lasting about an hour.

         Dr. Guidry diagnosed major depressive disorder - single episode - mild to moderate - with panic attacks. He stated that he was not qualified to make judgments about the claimant's physical disability or limitations. However, he observed that she walked slowly with a cane. He noted that the onset of her depression and anxiety coincided with her physical limitations. He also noted that she had always done simple repetitive jobs that did not require higher cognitive functioning. He described her mental condition as characterized by panic attacks, agitation with others, and lapses of attention and concentration. He speculated that her mental symptoms would be reduced if she was able to return to work. While he did not believe her mental difficulties would interfere with doing repetitive work, he opined that she would likely have erratic inconsistencies. He further opined that feedback from a supervisor would likely cause a significant agitation response. Dr. Guidry opined that behavior therapy might make her more functional in managing her agitation, which he thought was likely due to a combination of her pain level and frustration. Dr. Guidry recommended that the claimant should follow the medical advice from her treating physician, that she should seek counseling in addition to medication management for her mental issues, and that her daughter should manage her finances (as the claimant suggested to Dr. Guidry). Additionally, he noted that if her pain issues resolved, she would likely require the assistance of Louisiana Rehabilitation Services to obtain job training and employment. However, Dr. Guidry also opined that it was “highly unlikely that her current presentation of self (use of a cane, unsteady gait, crying during an interview) would likely not result in her making it through a job interview.” Although Dr. Guidry stated that he reviewed treatment notes from Teche Action Clinic for the time period from May to August 2013, no such documents were included in the record.

         A chest x-ray obtained at Franklin Foundation Hospital on April 12, 2014 due to the claimant's history of chest pain was normal.[18]

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic on April 16, 2014.[19] She reported having been to the emergency room twice over the prior weekend for chest pains, [20] and she reported that she was still experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. She reported having missed a cardiology appointment the previous month, which she was advised to reschedule. She complained of epigastric burning, but she had not yet started taking previously prescribed proton-pump inhibitor medication. She rated her pain at seven to eight on a ten-point scale. The diagnoses were: unspecified essential hypertension, reflux esophagitis, anxiety state, nondependent tobacco use disorder, obesity, chest pain unspecified, exercise counseling, and dietary surveillance and counseling.

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic for a routine visit on May 2, 2014.[21] She reported no pain. She was started on Drisdol for a Vitamin D deficiency and advised to keep her cardiology appointment.

         An EKG obtained at University Hospital and Clinics (“UHC”) in Lafayette, Louisiana, on May 5, 2014 was essentially normal, and chest x-rays obtained the same date showed no acute cardiopulmonary process.[22]

         On May 13, 2014, the claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic for a routine follow up visit.[23] She denied being in pain, she denied having any gastrointestinal complaints, and she reported having a cardiology appointment scheduled for June. She was advised to follow a low salt diet. She was taking the following medications: All Day Allergy (cetirizine, an antihistamine used to relieve allergy symptoms), aspirin, Benicar (treats hypertension), Dicyclomine (treats irritable bowel syndrome), Drisdol (treats Vitamin D deficiency), Escitalopram (treats depression and anxiety), garlic capsules (treats high blood pressure), ibuprofen (treats pain and inflammation), Lexapro (treats depression and anxiety), Mirtazapine (treats depression), Omeprazole (treats acid reflux), Remeron (treats depression), Xanax (treats anxiety), Zyrtec (treats allergies), and Norvasc (treats high blood pressure). It was noted that the claimant's mental health was managed by Dr. Bergeron.[24]

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic on September 16, 2014 still complaining of shortness of breath; she also complained of other symptoms unrelated to her disability claim.[25] It was noted that she had shortness of breath on exertion, had been seen in the cardiology department at UHC, [26] and used Proventil (an albuterol inhaler). She denied being in pain.

         The claimant followed up at the Teche clinic on November 5, 2014, [27]reporting shortness of breath with activity on a daily basis that resolved with rest. She denied any pain. It was noted that she had undergone a sleep study that showed obstructive sleep apnea, but the claimant reported that she could not afford a CPAP machine. The diagnoses assigned were: unspecified essential hypertension, reflux esophagitis, anxiety state, obesity, exercise counseling, dietary surveillance and counseling, and obstructive sleep apnea. Her Xanax prescription was discontinued.

         On January 20, 2015, the claimant was seen in the emergency department at UHC.[28] She complained of having had intermittent left-sided chest pains for two months that was worse that day with shortness of breath. She rated the pain at six on a ten-point scale and reported that it worsened with activity and improved with rest. She also reported that her chest pain usually resolved in about thirty minutes, but the day before, the pain had lasted several hours. She reported having stopped smoking nine months earlier. She also reported being noncompliant with her CPAP machine because it made her claustrophobic. An echocardiogram on that same day showed a hyperdynamic left ventricle. On January 21, 2015, a coronary angiogram and left heart catheterization procedure was performed for the purpose of ruling out acute coronary syndrome. The angiogram showed normal coronary arteries. Chest x-rays showed no acute cardiopulmonary process. It was recommended that the claimant control her blood pressure and that she be evaluated for non-coronary artery chest pain. During that night, the claimant had an episode of burning substernal/epigastric pain after a heavy meal, which was immediately relieved with a GI cocktail. On further questioning, the claimant reported acid reflux symptoms consistent with gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”) despite taking Prilosec (treats stomach and esophagus problems such as acid reflux) daily. On January 22, 2015, the claimant was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) following a pulmonary function test. She was discharged from the hospital with a Prilosec prescription, a prescription for Metoprolol (treats chest pain and high blood pressure), and instructions to schedule an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (“EGD”) procedure. The discharge diagnoses were COPD, GERD, obstructive sleep apnea, and hypertension.

         At a follow-up visit in the UHC Internal Medicine Clinic on February 18, 2015, [29] the claimant reported mild shortness of breath, occasional cough, and improved heartburn. She had been scheduled to get pulmonary function tests done after her discharge from the hospital but had not done so. She admitted that she was not compliant with diet recommendations and was not using her CPAP regularly.

         She followed up at UHC again on April 9, 2015.[30] She was assessed with COPD with chronic bronchitis (for which she was prescribed Advair and albuterol inhalers), hypertension, morbid obesity, GERD, and obstructive apnea. She was to continue her current hypertension and GERD medications, she was counseled on exercise and weight loss, and she was advised to adhere to CPAP usage instructions.

         The claimant began mental health treatment at the St. Mary Mental Health Clinic in Morgan City, Louisiana in January 2015.[31] In a counseling session on March 2, 2015, [32] she stated that she was feeling depressed and eating too much. She also reported chest pain and trouble breathing. She explained that her depression had worsened when she left work, and she stated that she left her job because it was too stressful.

         On March 5, 2015, the claimant saw psychiatrist Dr. Eben L. McClenahan at the St. Mary Mental Health Clinic.[33] He noted that her eye contact was good, her affect was appropriate, her mood was euthymic, her speech was within normal limits, her attitude was cooperative, she had no thoughts of harming herself or others, her thought process was logical and unremarkable, her thought content was nonpsychotic, her perception was unremarkable, she was appropriately oriented, her concentration was fair, her memory was intact, and her intellect, insight and judgment were fair. Dr. McClenahan described the severity of her symptoms as mild and much improved. His diagnosis was major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe with psychotic features.

         On March 9, 2015, the claimant followed up at the Teche Action Clinic for routine health maintenance.[34] She denied having chest pain or shortness of breath at that time and reported on her recent hospitalization, including the COPD diagnosis. She stated that she was now using her CPAP and taking Proair (an inhaler that treats asthma and shortness of breath) twice daily. She was advised to avoid carbonated drinks, exercise four to six times per week, avoid excessive salt intake, and adhere to a program of heart healthy nutrition.

         On April 6, 2015, the claimant had a psychotherapy session at the St. Mary Mental Health Clinic.[35] She reported that she had not wanted to attend the appointment but her daughter encouraged her to do so. It was noted that she was quiet but friendly and had to be prompted to participate. She indicated that she wanted to work on managing her anxiety, improving her mood, and learning how to express her anger. She stated that she was compliant with her medication.

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic on July 2, 2015, complaining of right knee pain.[36] She reported having had similar pain for several years and having been told it was arthritis, but the pain had worsened over the previous four days. She had taken Tylenol without relief. Her gait was normal. Examination of the right knee showed edema, a full range of motion, crepitus, and pain with palpation. She was instructed to apply ice packs four times per day for ten minutes at a time and was given a trial of Difclofenac (treats the pain, swelling, and joint stiffness caused by arthritis).

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic on September 18, 2015.[37]She complained of shortness of breath and stated that she used Advair “every now and then.” She also complained of right knee pain, ongoing for several years, and stated that over-the-counter medications were not helping. Her gait was normal, as was her left leg. No. redness was noted on her right knee, but there was swelling to the suprapatellar area as well as crepitus. She was prescribed Advair and ProAir for her COPD, lab work and an x-ray of her right knee were scheduled, and she was evaluated for depression.

         The claimant was again seen at the Teche Action Clinic on December 3, 2015.[38] She reported coughing for three days and a runny nose. She complained of chest pain due to coughing, body aches, and shortness of breath. She also reported limited use of Advair and ProAir. Examination showed some wheezing. She rated her chest pain at seven to eight on a ten-point scale. The claimant had not obtained an x-ray of her right knee. Several of her medications were discontinued, leaving the following list of medications: Advair, All Day Allergy, Alprazolam, Aspirin, Benicar, Ibuprofen, Lexapro, Norvasc, and ProAir.

         The claimant was seen again at the Teche Action Clinic on April 7, 2016 for chronic disease management and medication refills.[39] She was not in pain. She was encouraged to eat heart healthy meals and to exercise. She admitted eating foods not in compliance with nutritional advice. She was advised to use her CPAP machine as directed. Because she admitted not using ProAir and Advair as directed, instructions for proper usage were again provided. Ibuprofen was discontinued, and the dosage of Norvasc was adjusted.

         The claimant was seen by cardiologist Dr. Brent Rochon on August 4, 2016 for complaints of hypertension and occasional chest pain.[40] His diagnoses were angina pectoris, unspecified; essential (primary) hypertension; obesity, unspecified; and nonrheumatic aortic valve disorder, unspecified. He ordered a PET scan of her heart and an echocardiogram. She was to increase her dosage of Amiodipine (treats high blood pressure) and to monitor her blood pressure.

         The claimant followed up at the Teche Action Clinic on August 5, 2016 for a review of lab results.[41] She complained of back pain that she rated at seven to eight on a ten-point scale. She was to continue taking her hypertension medications and keep her cardiology appointments. She reported that she did not have a CPAP machine and requested one. Her glucose levels were abnormal, and she was counseled on weight loss, exercise, and healthy nutrition. She was advised to stop using Tylenol daily.

         The claimant returned to the Teche Action Clinic on August 18, 2016.[42] She again complained of back pain that she rated at seven to eight, and she indicated that her depression symptoms were unchanged.

         On January 2, 2017, the claimant was again seen at the Teche Action Clinic.[43]She reported having had chronic low back pain since 2008, having seen a pain management physician, and having had an MRI of the low back that showed “bad discs.”[44] She reported that she was taking Ibuprofen without relief. She was counseled to use caution with Ibuprofen and to take it with food due to her GERD. She requested a referral for an MRI. It was noted that she was able to get on and off the exam table without difficulty, no atrophy was noted, and her strength was equal in her legs. She reported having seen Dr. Rochon, her cardiologist, the day before. She was given a prescription for Ibuprofen 600 mg. and advised to keep her routine appointments.

         On January 12, 2017, the claimant returned to the Teche clinic requesting a refill of medications. The assessments were heartburn and hypertension. She was prescribed Pantoprazole (treats stomach and esophagus problems).

         The claimant saw Dr. Rochon, the cardiologist, on January 24, 2017 for a six-month follow-up visit.[45] It was noted that her blood pressure was well controlled but she was still having chest pain with exertion, which was relieved with rest. Due to a change in her insurance, she had not had recommended testing done. Dr. Rochon ordered an echocardiogram, imaging, and a treadmill nuclear stress test. His diagnoses were cardiac murmur, unspecified; angina pectoris, unspecified; nonrheumatic aortic valve disorder, unspecified; essential (primary) hypertension; and obesity, unspecified.

         The claimant was again seen at Teche Action Clinic on January 25, 2017.[46]She complained of low back pain and was counselled with regard to diet, exercise, and other issues.

         On January 31, 2017, the claimant had a nuclear stress test at Franklin Foundation Hospital.[47] She saw Dr. Rochon on February 14, 2017 for test results.[48]Dr. Rochon noted that her blood pressure was elevated (183/92), her heart rate was 82 beats per minute, and she was still reporting chest pain with exertion and relief with rest. He also noted that the nuclear stress test did not exclude mild anterior ischemia.[49] On February 28, 2017, the claimant had an echocardiogram, [50] which showed a left ventricular ejection fraction estimated at 81.47%, [51] severe concentric left ventricular hypertrophy, [52] and mild tricuspid valve regurgitation.[53]

         On March 21, 2017, the claimant testified at a hearing regarding her symptoms and her medical treatment. She stated that she had arthritis in her right knee and used a cane because her legs sometimes gave out. However, she admitted that the cane was not prescribed by a doctor. She stated that the pain in her knee prevents her from doing things. She explained that she had been treated for depression but had not recently been going to the St. Mary Mental Health Clinic on a regular basis. She stated that she was taking prescriptions for anxiety and depression. She further explained that she was under the care of Dr. Rochon, a cardiologist, for chest pain and heart problems. She explained that either every day or every other day, for approximately thirty minutes to an hour, her chest was so tight that she was out of breath and it felt as though she was going to have a heart attack. The claimant explained that she stopped working in 2012 after she was rushed to the hospital from work because they thought she was going to have a stroke. She did not attempt to return to work thereafter. She stated that, in a typical day, she can spend about an hour and a half to two hours on her feet, can walk only the distance from one room to another in her house, and does not do any exercise walking. She stated that she was approximately 5'5” and 250 pounds. She stated that she was tested for sleep apnea and used a CPAP machine. She said she passed her time by reading, doing a little cooking for she and her mother (who lives with her), and watching a lot of TV. She stated that she dozed off during the day but had trouble sleeping at night. She did not know if this was caused by her medication. She stated that she was unable to sweep or engage in many activities because she became short of breath.

         The claimant seeks to have the Commissioner's adverse decision reversed.

         Analysis

         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.[54] “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.”[55] 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.'”[56]

         If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed.[57] 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.[58] Conflicts in the evidence[59] and credibility assessments[60] 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.[61]

         B. Entitlement to Benefits

         The Disability Insurance Benefit (“DIB”) program provides income to individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled, regardless of indigence.[62] The Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program provides income to individuals who meet certain income and resource requirements, have applied for benefits, and are disabled.[63]

         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.”[64] 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.[65]

         In this case, the ALJ found that the claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2028.[66] In her briefing, however, the claimant stated that her insured status for Title II benefits expired in September 2011, prior to the alleged disability onset date, making this a claim for SSI benefits only.[67] According to the evidence in the record, the claimant was a Medicare-qualified government employee, employed by the St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office from 2006 through 2012 and did not earn any qualifying quarters during those years.[68] However, the disability examiners found that her date last insured was December 31, 2028.[69] Because this Court is recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed and this matter dismissed with prejudice, resolution of this discrepancy is not necessary.

         C. Evaluation Process and Burden of Proof

         A sequential five-step inquiry is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. This process requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant (1) is currently working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment listed in or medically equivalent to those in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) is able to do the kind of work he did in the past; and (5) can perform other work.[70]

         Before going from step three to step four, the Commissioner evaluates the claimant's residual functional capacity[71] by determining the most the claimant can still do despite his physical and mental limitations based on all relevant evidence in the record.[72] The claimant's residual functional capacity is used at the fourth step to determine if he can still do his past relevant work and at the fifth step to determine whether he can adjust to any other type of work.[73]

         The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps; at the fifth step, however, the Commissioner bears the burden of showing that the claimant can perform other substantial work in the national economy.[74] This burden may be satisfied by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines of the regulations, by expert vocational testimony, or by other similar evidence.[75] If the Commissioner makes the necessary showing at step five, the burden shifts back to the claimant to rebut this finding.[76] If the Commissioner determines that the claimant is disabled or not disabled at any step, the analysis ends.[77]

         D. The ALJ's Findings and Conclusions

         The ALJ determined, at step one of the sequential analysis, that the claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 27, 2013 (the amended alleged disability onset date).[78] This finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record.

         At step two, the ALJ found that the claimant has the following severe impairment: major depressive disorder.[79] This finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record. The claimant argued that the ALJ erred in failing to find that her cardiovascular condition and knee condition were also severe impairments.

         At step three, the ALJ found that the claimant has no impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment.[ ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.