United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
JAMIE S. ROARK
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
A. DOUGHTY JUDGE.
REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
L. HAYES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the court is plaintiff's petition for review of the
Commissioner's denial of social security disability
benefits. The district court referred the matter to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for proposed
findings of fact and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). For the reasons assigned below,
it is recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be
REVERSED and REMANDED for further
& Procedural History
Roark filed the instant application for Title II Disability
Insurance Benefits on June 4, 2015. (Tr. 17, 119-120). She
alleged disability as of April 30, 2014, because of a back
injury, and chronic back and hip pain. (Tr. 129, 133). The
state agency denied the claim at the initial stage of the
administrative process. (Tr. 49-62). Thereafter, Roark
requested and received a January 25, 2017, hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 28-48).
However, in a June 9, 2017, written decision, the ALJ
determined that Roark was not disabled under the Social
Security Act, finding at step four of the sequential
evaluation process that she was able to return to her past
relevant work as an account executive and a graphic designer.
(Tr. 14-23). Roark appealed the adverse decision to the
Appeals Council. On April 6, 2018, however, the Appeals
Council denied Roark's request for review; thus the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).
4, 2018, Roark sought review before this court. She asserts
several assignments of error, which may be recharacterized as
1) The ALJ's step two finding that the claimant's
shoulder impairment was not severe because “it has not
been present for 12 continuous months” is a
misapplication of the duration requirement and, as such,
cannot be sustained;
2) For various reasons, the ALJ's residual functional
capacity determination is not supported by substantial
3) The ALJ's step four finding that the claimant can
return to her past relevant work as an account executive and
graphic designer is not supported by substantial evidence.
court's standard of review is (1) whether substantial
evidence of record supports the ALJ's determination, and
(2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal
standards. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021
(5th Cir. 1990). Where the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, the findings
therein are conclusive and must be affirmed. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence when the decision is reached by applying improper
legal standards. Singletary v. Bowen, 798 F.2d 818
(5th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. at 401. Substantial evidence lies somewhere between a
scintilla and a preponderance. Muse v. Sullivan, 925
F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991). A finding of no substantial
evidence is proper when no credible medical findings or
evidence support the ALJ's determination. Johnson v.
Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). The
reviewing court may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues
de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232,
(5th Cir. 1994).
to the Social Security Act (“SSA”), individuals
who contribute to the program throughout their lives are
entitled to payment of insurance benefits if they suffer from
a physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(a)(1)(D). The SSA defines a disability as the
“inability 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 12 months . . .” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). Based on a claimant's age,
education, and work experience, the SSA utilizes a broad
definition of substantial gainful employment that is not
restricted by a claimant's previous form of work or the
availability of other acceptable forms of work. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Furthermore, a disability may
be based on the combined effect of multiple impairments
which, if considered individually, would not be of the
requisite severity under the SSA. See 20 C.F.R.
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration has
established a five-step sequential evaluation process that
the agency uses to determine whether a claimant is disabled
under the SSA. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1520,
416.920. The steps are as follows,
(1) An individual who is performing substantial gainful
activity will not be found disabled regardless of medical
(2) An individual who does not have a “severe
impairment” of the requisite duration will not be found
(3) An individual whose impairment(s) meets or equals a
listed impairment in [20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1]
will be considered disabled without the consideration of
(4) If an individual's residual functional capacity is
such that he or she can still perform past relevant work,
then a finding of “not disabled” will be made.
(5) If an individual is unable to perform past relevant work,
then other factors including age, education, past work
experience, and residual functional capacity must be
considered to determine whether the individual can make an
adjustment to other work in the economy.
See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 -705
(5th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
claimant bears the burden of proving a disability under the
first four steps of the analysis; under the fifth step,
however, the Commissioner must show that the claimant is
capable of performing work in the national economy and is
therefore not disabled. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n. 5 (1987). When a finding of
“disabled” or “not disabled” may be
made at any step, the process is terminated. Villa v.
Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990). If at any
point during the five-step review the claimant is found to be
disabled or not disabled, that finding is conclusive and
terminates the analysis. Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d
55, 58 (5th Cir. 1987).