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Roberts v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

July 9, 2013

ANER RUTH ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

LINDA R. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

Aner Roberts appeals the final decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner requests an order pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), affirming the final decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Having carefully considered the hearing transcript, the medical records in evidence, and all the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that the decision be affirmed for the reasons that follow.

Factual and Procedural Background

On May 7, 2009, Roberts filed an application for SSI, alleging she became disabled on August 29, 2008. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. She appealed the denial and on January 19, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Philip P. McLeod ("ALJ") rendered an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff had not established a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 13, 2012. She now appeals that decision.

Plaintiff has not worked since she was diagnosed with Lupus in 1995, over 15 years ago. She was approximately 49 years old at her administrative hearing and alleges disability due primarily to Lupus. In the first administrative hearing on October 6, 2010, the ALJ noted that there was no medical evidence of record and granted counsel a continuance to obtain records from Plaintiff's medical providers. The hearing was rescheduled to December 10, 2010, and the ALJ again noted a lack of medical evidence from Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Daniel Gambrell. He directed counsel to supplement the record with additional evidence within two weeks.[1]

After reviewing the evidence, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, [2] the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of her application, May 7, 2009. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that although her Lupus and hypertension were severe, none of her impairments met or medically equaled any listing. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work as a poultry arranger, but has the residual functional capacity to:

... perform a limited range of light work activity, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b). The claimant can stand and/or walk for four hours in an eighthour workday in increments of thirty to forty-five minutes at a time. She can only occasionally stoop; and is able to use her fingers for precise work up to only half of the workday but not continuously. Further, the claimant is limited to jobs where she would receive primarily verbal, as opposed to written, instruction. Finally, the claimant has a slightly to moderately limited ability to complete work tasks in a normal workday at a consistent pace and to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods.[3]

Based on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ concluded at step five, that given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, she could work as a product assembler, folder, and ticket taker.

Standard of Review

Judicial review in social security appeals is limited to two basic inquiries: "(1) whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the [ALJ's] decision; and (2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal standards." Brock v. Chater, 84 F.3d 726, 728 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Carrier v. Sullivan, 944 F.2d 243, 245 (5th Cir. 1991)). Evidence is substantial if it is "relevant and sufficient for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it must be more than a scintilla, but it need not be a preponderance." Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 295 (5th Cir. 1992)). This Court may not re-weigh the evidence, try the case de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, even if it finds evidence that preponderates against the ALJ's decision. Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994).

Discussion

Plaintiff alleges that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed or alternatively remanded because (1) the ALJ erred in failing to find that her headaches were a severe impairment at step two; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to assign controlling weight to her treating physician's opinions; and (3) the ALJ erred in finding that she had the residual functional capacity assessment to perform a limited range of light work. The Court rejects these arguments for the reasons that follow.

1. Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's headaches were a severe impairment at step two.

Plaintiff's first point of error is that the ALJ erred in failing to find that her headaches were a severe impairment at step two. In support, she cites her visits to Dr. Gambrell in July 2008 and September 2010, documenting her complaints of headaches and dizziness. The Commissioner counters that the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's headaches as a symptom of her Lupus, and in support, cites the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus-PubMed Health, ...


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