United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
A. SANDERS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying the application
of Rickey Thomas Miller for disability benefits under the
Social Security Act. The parties have consented to entry of
final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge under
the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), with any appeal to
the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
court, having reviewed the administrative record, the briefs
of the parties, the applicable law, and having heard oral
argument, finds the Commissioner's decision denying
benefits should be affirmed. The decision is supported by
substantial evidence and no prejudicial error has been found.
and Procedural History
November 19, 2013, Rickey Miller filed his application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging onset of disability on June 1, 2013. After the
application was denied at the lower levels, a hearing was
held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on November 17,
2015. An unfavorable decision was issued on May 4, 2016.
Miller's insured status expires on December 31, 2017.
found that Miller's hearing impairment, otosclerosis, was
severe. After determining that the claimant did not meet any
listed impairment, the ALJ determined Miller's residual
functional capacity, finding he could perform a full range of
work at all exertional levels but that he could work in no
more than a moderate noise-level environment. Relying on the
testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that
Miller was capable of adjusting to work other than his past
work experience and that such other work existed in
sufficient numbers in the national economy. Therefore, he was
found not disabled.
claimant asserts the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence and is not based upon proper legal
standards because the ALJ substituted his own opinions for,
or misinterpreted, those of the medical and vocational
and Standard of Review
court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial
evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner and
whether the correct legal standards were applied. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971); Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 163 (5th
Cir. 1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021
(5th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence has been defined as
“more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept at adequate to
support a conclusion.” Perales, 402 U.S. at
401 (quoting Consolidated Edison v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
197, 229 (1938)). The Fifth Circuit has further held that
substantial evidence “must do more than create a
suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but
‘no substantial evidence' will be found only where
there is a ‘conspicuous absence of credible
choices' or ‘no contrary medical
evidence.'” Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d
471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988) (quoting Hames v. Heckler,
707 F.2d 162, 164(5th Cir. 1983)). Conflicts in the evidence
are for the Commissioner to decide, and if substantial
evidence is found to support the decision, the decision 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 may not reweigh the evidence, try the case
de novo, or substitute its own judgment for that of
the Commissioner even if it finds that the evidence
preponderates against the Commissioner's decision.
Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434(5th Cir. 1994);
Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir.
1988); Harrell, 862 F.2d at 475. If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by the evidence,
then it is conclusive and must be upheld. Paul v.
Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 210 (5th Cir. 1994).
determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ,
works through a five-step sequential process. The burden rests
upon the claimant throughout the first four steps of this
five-step process to prove disability, and if the claimant is
successful in sustaining his burden at each of the first four
levels, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step
five. First, claimant must prove he is not
currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity. Second, claimant must prove his impairment
is “severe” in that it “significantly
limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities . . . .” At step three, the ALJ must conclude
claimant 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. Fourth, claimant
bears the burden of proving he is incapable of meeting the
physical and mental demands of his past relevant
work. If claimant is successful at all four of
the preceding steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
prove, considering claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and past work experience, that he
is capable of performing other work. If the Commissioner proves
other work exists which claimant can perform, claimant is
given the chance to prove that he cannot, in fact, perform
present case, essentially a single issue lies before the
court: Whether the ALJ erred by substituting his own opinions
for, or misinterpreting, those of the medical and vocational
experts. Claimant argues that the ALJ misinterpreted his
medical records and that the ALJ analyzed the medical records
and vocational testimony out of context when he found the
claimant not disabled.
2007, 2011, and 2012, claimant was seen by Drs. Malcolm and
James McAuley, ENT specialists. In December 2007, Miller
presented with tinnitus in both ears, which had been ongoing
for approximately one month. He complained of associated
symptoms of difficulty concentrating, hearing loss, and
insomnia. However, Dr. McAuley found him “[n]egative
for . . . lack of concentration and psychiatric/emotional
problems.” He was found to have chronic mixed hearing
loss, and they discussed corrective surgery and hearing aids.
In February 2011, Miller again presented with bilateral
sensorineural hearing loss. He and Dr. McAuley again
discussed the options of surgery or hearing aids. Miller
opted for hearing aids. By 2012, Miller's hearing loss
had progressed to moderate “with a noticed
decline.” He was negative for fatigue and exhibited
normal levels of consciousness. Surgery was again discussed,
but Dr. McAuley explained that surgery would not cure the
ringing in claimant's ears.
2014, claimant was examined by Dr. J. Montgomery Berry, an
ENT specialist, who found that Miller had difficulty
discriminating voices, as well as hearing loss and
tinnitus.He also found Miller positive for
fatigue. Notably, Dr. Berry discussed new tinnitus hearing
aids. Miller was to schedule an appointment to get fitted for
these new hearing aids when he was ready. Following an
audiogram, Dr. Berry found claimant's hearing loss to be
“moderately-severe to profound.” Dr. Berry also
performed a consultative examination in February