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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

September 20, 2013

ANGELA ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

S. ALLAN ALEXANDER, Magistrate Judge.

This case involves an application under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Angela Robinson for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Section 216(I) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff protectively applied for disability insurance benefits on April 19, 2009, alleging that she became disabled on December 4, 2007. Docket 9, p. 102-03. The plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. at 46-51. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on July 12, 2011. Id. at 24-42. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 28, 2011. Id. at 9-19. Plaintiff requested and was denied review by the Appeals Council via letter on December 11, 2012. Id. at 1-3. The plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal from the Commissioner's most recent decision, and it is now ripe for review. In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties have consented to have a magistrate judge conduct all the proceedings in this case, the undersigned therefore has the authority to issue this opinion and the accompanying final judgment.

I. FACTS

The plaintiff was born on June 11, 1978, and was 33 years old at the time of the hearing. Docket 9, p. 26. She has a high school education, and her past relevant work was as a housekeeper, cashier and machine operator feeder. Id. at 38. She contends that she became disabled on December 4, 2007 as a result of "bipolar disorder, back-neck problems, arthritis pain, etc." Id. at 107.

The ALJ determined that the plaintiff suffered from "severe" impairments including mood disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, arthralgias, and somatoform disorder, but that these impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1(20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). Docket 9, p. 15-18. The ALJ found that the plaintiff retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to

occasionally lift/carry and push/pull 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry and push/pull 10 pounds. She can stand/walk for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday for 1 hour at a time. She can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday for 2 hours at a time. She can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel and crawl. She cannot work around excessive noise. She must work at a facility with a bathroom. She has minimal limitations to range of motion of the cervical spine. Despite her mental problems, she can understand, remember, and carry out low level detailed instructions and tasks. She can concentrate for 2-hour periods at a time. She cannot work around the general public. She can have occasionally interaction with coworkers but not a job that requires teamwork. She can have non-confrontational supervision. Her judgment and ability to adapt to changes is adequate. Her reliability is fair and she cannot have a high-stress job.

Id. at 19-20. In light of testimony by a vocational expert [VE] at the hearing, the ALJ found plaintiff incapable of performing her past relevant work, but that other jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. Id. at 21-22. Therefore, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 22-23.

Plaintiff claims the the ALJ erred in not affording proper weight to opinions of her treating physician and an examining consultant, refusing to allow her husband to testify, improperly evaluating her credibility and "cherry picking" evidence to support his opinion. Because the undersigned is of the opinion that the ALJ did not properly evaluate and weigh the opinions of the plaintiff's treating physician, therefore rendering his opinion unsupported by substantial evidence, the court need not address the remaining issues.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ, works through a five-step sequential evaluation process.[1] The burden rests upon plaintiff throughout the first four steps of this five-step process to prove disability, and if plaintiff is successful in sustaining her burden at each of the first four levels, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.[2] First, plaintiff must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.[3] Second, plaintiff must prove her impairment is "severe" in that it "significantly limits [her] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities...."[4] At step three the ALJ must conclude plaintiff is disabled if she proves that her impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, §§ 1.00-114.09 (2010).[5] If plaintiff does not meet this burden, at step four she must prove that she is incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of her past relevant work.[6] At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove, considering plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education and past work experience, that she is capable of performing other work.[7] If the Commissioner proves other work exists which plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is given the chance to prove that she cannot, in fact, perform that work.[8]

The court considers on appeal whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner used the correct legal standard. Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 196 (5th Cir. 1999), citing Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170 (5th Cir. 1993); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). The court has the responsibility to scrutinize the entire record to determine whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied in reviewing the claim. Ransom v. Heckler, 715 F.2d 989, 992 (5th Cir. 1983). The court has limited power of review and may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, [9] even if it finds that the evidence leans against the Commissioner's decision.[10] The Fifth Circuit has held that 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." Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to decide, and if there is substantial evidence to support the decision, it must be affirmed even if there is evidence on the other side. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). The court's inquiry is whether the record, as a whole, provides sufficient evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions of the ALJ. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "If supported by substantial evidence, the decision of the [Commissioner] is conclusive and must be affirmed." Paul v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 210 (5th Cir. 1994), citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends on appeal that the ALJ's decision to discount her treating physician's opinions resulted in an RFC finding that is not supported by substantial evidence. Docket 16, p.

7. Dr. Mark Ramsey had been the plaintiff's treating physician for at least four years on the date of the hearing. Docket 9, p. 285. The ALJ gave Dr. Ramsey's opinion little weight, emphasizing that "Dr. Ramsey is not a psychiatric expert because he is not even a psychiatrist or a psychologist." Docket 9, p. 12. And stating again, "[Dr. Ramsey's] opinion was not based on a mental status evaluation and ...


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