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Falls v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 13, 2019

JAMALL HENRY FALLS
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

         SECTION “I” (2)

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH C. WILKINSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jamall Henry Falls seeks judicial review pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c. This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.2E(B).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 17, 2015, Falls filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of October 24, 2015. (Tr. 12, 67, 187). After his claim was denied at the agency level, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on October 26, 2017, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Tr. 37-66). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by counsel. Id. The ALJ issued a decision on January 18, 2018, finding that Falls was not disabled. (Tr. 12-20). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which denied plaintiff's request on December 6, 2018, and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of this court's review. (Tr. 1-6).

         Plaintiff filed his complaint in this court on January 10, 2019. Record Doc. No. 1. Falls timely filed his memorandum of facts and law on April 24, 2019. Record Doc. No. 10. Defendant timely filed her reply memorandum of facts and law on May 23, 2019. Record Doc. No. 11.

         II. STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE ON APPEAL

         Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner made the following errors:

A. The ALJ erred at Step Three of the sequential evaluation in failing to address any medical opinions in her finding that plaintiff did not meet the criteria of Paragraph B of Listing 12.03.
B. Substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding at Step Three of the sequential evaluation.

         Record Doc. No. 10 at pp. 8-10.

         III. ALJ'S FINDINGS RELEVANT TO ISSUE ON APPEAL

         The ALJ made the following findings relevant to the issue on appeal:

1. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 17, 2015.
2. Falls has the severe impairments of schizophrenia and cannabis abuse.
3. He does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: plaintiff is limited to performing tasks with a Specific Vocational Preparation level of two or less, with no interaction with the public, no more than occasional interaction with co-workers or supervisors, no more than occasional changes in the work setting or routine and no driving as part of his work duties.
5. Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
6. Based on plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including cleaner, general office clerk and packer.
7. Falls was not under a disability since November 15, 2015.

(Tr. 12-20).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Standards of Review

         The function of this court on judicial review is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the final decision of the Commissioner as trier of fact and whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards in evaluating the evidence. Richard ex rel. Z.N.F. v. Astrue, 480 Fed.Appx. 773, 776 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 461 (5th Cir. 2005)); Stringer v. Astrue, 465 Fed.Appx. 361, 363 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Waters v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 716, 716 (5th Cir. 2002)). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Richard ex rel. Z.N.F., 480 Fed.Appx. at 776; Stringer, 465 Fed.Appx. at 363-64; Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. This court may not reweigh the evidence in the record, try the issues de novo or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, even if the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Halterman ex rel. Halterman v. Colvin, 544 Fed.Appx. 358, 360 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000)); Stringer, 465 Fed.Appx. at 364. The Commissioner, rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence. McCaskill v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 640 Fed.Appx. 331, 332-33 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing Perez, 415 F.3d at 461); Luckey v. Astrue, 458 Fed.Appx. 322, 324 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990)); Newton, 209 F.3d at 452.

         The ALJ is entitled to make any finding that is supported by substantial evidence, regardless whether other conclusions are also permissible. See Arkansas v. Oklahoma, 503 U.S. 91 (1992). Despite this court's limited function, it must scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached and whether substantial evidence supports it. Joubert v. Astrue, 287 Fed.Appx. 380, 382 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Perez, 415 F.3d at 461). Any findings of fact by the Commissioner that are supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Ray v. Barnhart, 163 Fed.Appx. 308, 311 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Perales, 402 U.S. at 390); Perez, 415 F.3d at 461.

         To be considered disabled and eligible for supplemental security income, plaintiff must show that 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. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that provide procedures for evaluating a claim and determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1501 to 404.1599 & appendices, §§ 416.901 to 416.998 (2016). The regulations include a five-step evaluation process for determining whether an impairment prevents a person from engaging in any substantial gainful activity.[1]Id. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Alexander v. Astrue, 412 Fed.Appx. ...


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