United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
MAURICE HICKS, JR. 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
AFFIRMED, and this matter
DISMISSED with prejudice.
& Procedural History
about January 23, 2007, Lynda Hensley filed the instant
applications for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and
Title XVI Supplemental Security Income payments. See
Tr. 86, 140-144). She alleged disability as of August 12,
2006, because of liver disease. (Tr. 169, 172). On May 3,
2007, the state agency granted Hensley's application(s)
and found her disabled as of her alleged onset date. (Tr.
March 2015, the state agency initiated a continuing
disability review (“CDR”) to determine whether
Hensley's disabling conditions had experienced medical
improvement. See Tr. 198-202. On April 20, 2015, the
state agency determined that, as of that month, Hensley had
experienced medical improvement, and therefore, her benefits
would terminate effective June 2015. (Tr. 73, 75-77). Hensley
asked the state agency to reconsider its decision, and
elected to continue receiving benefits during the appeal
process. (Tr. 79, 145-147). A disability hearing officer
considered Hensley's request, but in a March 16, 2016,
decision, found that her disability ceased as of April 2015.
(Tr. 74, 83-94).
Hensley requested and received a January 11, 2017, hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr.
29-69). However, in a July 25, 2017, written decision, the
ALJ determined that Hensley's disability ended as of
April 1, 2015, and that she had not become disabled again
since that date. (Tr. 7-18).
appealed the adverse decision to the Appeals Council. On
April 19, 2018, however, the Appeals Council denied
Hensley's request for review; thus the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).
16, 2018, Hensley sought review before this court. Succinctly
restated, she contends that for various reasons, the
ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment is not
supported by substantial evidence and/or is tainted by legal
error. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision.
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, 236
(5th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).
law provides that “[i]n any case where an individual is
or has been determined to be under a disability, the
case shall be reviewed by the applicable State
agency or the Commissioner of Social Security (as may be
appropriate), for purposes of continuing eligibility at least
once every 3 years . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 421(i)
(emphasis added). However, a disability recipient's
benefits “may be terminated only if substantial
evidence demonstrates both that ‘there has
been any medical improvement' and that
‘the individual is now able to engage in substantial
gainful activity.'” Hallaron v. Colvin,
578 Fed.Appx. 350, 353 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(4)(A)). A finding of continuing disability is
not required where the benefits recipient “fails,
without good cause, to cooperate in a review of his or her
entitlement or to follow prescribed treatment which would be
expected [ ]to restore his or her ability to engage in
substantial gainful activity . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner has prescribed regulations to implement the
foregoing requirement. Specifically, a disability
recipient's benefits will be terminated only where the
a) that there has been medical improvement in the
individual's impairment or combination of impairments
that is related to the individual's ability to
b) or that one or more exceptions to medical improvement
c) in addition to a) or b), that the individual is currently
able to engage in substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(a) (paraphrased).
evaluating the above-enumerated issues, the Commissioner
employs an eight-step sequential analysis:
1. Whether the individual is engaged in substantial gainful
activity? (if so, the Commissioner will find that disability
2. Whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of
impairments which meets or equals the severity of an
impairment listed in Appendix 1? (If so, disability will be
found to continue).
3. If not, has there been medical improvement? (If so, step 4
is considered; if not, go to step 5).
4. If there has been medical improvement, is it related to
the individual's ability to perform work? (If not, go to
step 5; if so, go to step 6).
5. If there was no medical improvement at step 3 or the
medical improvement was not related to the individual's
ability to work at step 4, does an exception apply? (If not,
disability continues; if one of the first exceptions to
medical improvement applies, then go to step 6; if an
exception from the second group of exceptions to medical
improvement applies, then disability has ended).
6. If there has been medical improvement related to the
individual's ability to do work or if one of the first
group of exceptions to medical improvement applies, are the
individual's current impairments in ...