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Liddell v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

July 6, 2017




         Plaintiff Cordell Young Liddell, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and a period of disability (POD) under Sections 216(1) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff protectively filed his application for benefits on July 15, 2014. His application alleged disability beginning on December 5, 2012. His claim was denied initially on February 13, 2015, and upon reconsideration on March 3, 2015. He filed a request for hearing and was represented by counsel at the hearing held on April 27, 2016. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision on June 14, 2016, and the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for a review on September 21, 2016. Plaintiff timely filed the instant appeal from the ALJ's most recent decision, and it is now ripe for review.

         Because both parties have consented to have a magistrate judge conduct 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. Having considered the record, the briefs and the oral arguments of counsel, the court finds this case should be affirmed.

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff was born on March 17, 1962 and was 54 years old at the time of the hearing. He testified that he attended high school and previously worked as a correctional officer. Docket 8 at 181-82. Plaintiff contends that he became disabled before his application for benefits due to "diabetes, PTSD, poor vision, depression, brain damage, HBP (high blood pressure), memory loss, heart attack, stroke and NIDPM (non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus). Docket 8 at 304.

         Completing the five-step evaluation process, the ALJ determined that plaintiff suffered from "severe" impairments of diabetes and depressive disorder, but found 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). Based upon the plaintiff s testimony at the hearing and considering the medical records he reviewed, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant cannot work at heights or around hazards. The claimant is limited to simple, repetitive tasks, meaning he can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, and should have only occasional interaction with the public, supervisors, and coworkers.

         Docket 8 at 22. Upon further analysis under applicable rulings and regulations, the ALJ found plaintiff to be less than fully credible in that the intensity, persistence and limiting effects he claimed due to his symptoms were "not entirely consistent with the medical evidence . . . ." Id. Considering the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform the jobs of a merchandise marker, routing clerk, and mail clerk in the national economy and was therefore not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 26.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred because he failed to properly consider all of the evidence in the record. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to consider his PTSD under Listing 12.15, failed to consider the MRI of plaintiff s brain and failed to properly consider his back impairment. Following a review of the briefs, the transcript and oral argument, the undersigned concludes that plaintiffs case should be affirmed.


         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 his burden at each of the first four levels, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.[2] First, plaintiff must prove he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.[3] Second, plaintiff must prove his impairment is "severe" in that it "significantly limits [his] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . . ."[4] At step three the ALJ must conclude 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).[5] If plaintiff does not meet this burden, at step four he must prove that he is incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work.[6] At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove, considering plaintiffs residual functional capacity, age, education and past work experience, that he 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 he 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).


         Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of the evidence in the record, specifically his PTSD diagnosis, his brain MRI and his back impairment. Docket 12 at 8. In response, the Commissioner asserts that even if the ALJ's consideration of plaintiff s PTSD, MRI and back ...

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