United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
S. ALLAN ALEXANDER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Billy Ray Bibbs has applied for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying his application for a period of disability (POD) and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Sections 216(I) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for benefits on March 29, 2011 alleging disability beginning on March 27, 2009. Docket 9, pp. 209-15. The agency administratively denied the plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration. Docket 9, pp. 150-53. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held on May 23, 2013. Docket 9, p. 70. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 10, 2013 (Docket 9, pp. 5-26), and the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for a review on August 11, 2014, Docket 9, p. 1. Plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal from the decision and it is now ripe for review.
Because both parties have consented to a magistrate judge conducting all the proceedings in this case as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the undersigned has the authority to issue this opinion and the accompanying final judgment.
Plaintiff was born November 26, 1963 and was forty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ hearing. Docket 9, p. 74. He was previously employed as a maintenance and lawn care worker for approximately eighteen years. Docket 9, p. 76. Plaintiff contends that he became disabled before his application for benefits as a result of diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, arthralgia, obesity, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome, and severe obstructive sleep apnea.
After reviewing the record as a whole, including the evidence and testimony provided, the ALJ issued her unfavorable opinion on June 10, 2013. Docket 9, pp. 5-26. Within that opinion, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had met the insured status requirement through December 31, 2011. Docket 9, p. 10. In evaluating the plaintiff's disability claim, the ALJ proceeded through the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a); see also Docket 9, pp. 8-26. From that process the ALJ determined that through the date last insured (DLI) the claimant suffered from the "severe" impairments of "diabetes mellitus, diabetic neuropathy, arthralgia, obesity, hypertension, and carpal tunnel syndrome, " (Docket 9, p. 10), but that these impairments did not meet or medically 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. 12.
Upon further analysis under the applicable rulings and regulations, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was less than fully credible because his claimed symptoms, stated limitations and subjective complaints-particularly concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of those ailments-were not credible. Docket 9, p. 17. The ALJ similarly concluded that testimony from plaintiff's wife warranted little weight because that testimony was not supported "by the objective or clinical medical evidence or with the activities of daily living described during [a] June 2011 consultative examination" of Dr. Justin Brewer. Docket 9, p. 19. The ALJ also elected to assign little weight to testimony provided by the plaintiff's brother in the form of a written letter because he was "not a disinterested third party and disabling pain and functional limitations are not well supported by objective medical findings." Docket 9, p. 18.
The plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in (i) her credibility findings based on an incorrect assessment of plaintiff's testimony about his driving habits and her rejection of the plaintiff's brother's statements; (ii) formation of the plaintiff's RFC, and (iii) relying on improper VE testimony concerning the dictionary of occupational titles.
II. EVALUATION PROCESS
In determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ, works through a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden to prove disability rests upon plaintiff through the first four steps of the process and if plaintiff is successful in sustaining his burden at each of the first four levels, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 198 (5th Cir. 1999). First, the plaintiff must prove he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the plaintiff must prove his impairment(s) are "severe" in that they "significantly limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities...." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three the ALJ must conclude that the plaintiff is disabled if he proves that his 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). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If the plaintiff does not meet this burden, at step four he must prove he is incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Finally, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that, considering plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education and past work experience, she is capable of performing other work. 20 C.F.R § 404.1520(g). If the Commissioner proves other work exists which plaintiff can perform, plaintiff is then given the chance to prove that he cannot, in fact, perform that work. See Muse v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court's scope of review is limited. On appeal the court must consider whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Crowley, 197 F.3d at 196, citing Austin v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1170 (5th Cir. 1993); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). In making that determination, the court has the responsibility to scrutinize the entire record. 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, Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988), even if it finds the evidence leans against the Commissioner's decision. See Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th Cir. 1994); see also Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988).
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, 197 F.3d at 197 (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 ALJ's conclusions. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Crowley, 197 F.3d at 197. "If ...