United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division
REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
Michael T. Parker United States Magistrate Judge
Lisa Magee Williams brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying
her claim for disability insurance benefits. The matter is
now before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Affirm
the Commissioner's Decision . Having considered the
pleadings, the record, and the applicable law, the
undersigned recommends that the Defendant's Motion to
Affirm the Commissioner's Decision  be GRANTED, the
Commissioner's final decision should be AFFIRMED, and
this action be DISMISSED.
October 14, 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits alleging she had been disabled since October 10,
2013, due to depression, anxiety, hypertension, vitamin D
deficiency, back problems, low magnesium, and severe anxiety.
See (Administrative Record  at 82-83, 97-98.) The
Social Security Administration denied Williams'
application, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ, which
was held on February 23, 2016. See ( at 58,
110-13, 118-23.) On June 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
finding that she was not disabled. ( at 13-40.) The
Appeals Council denied her request for review, id.
at 6-12, and this appeal followed.
was forty-one years old on the alleged onset date of October
10, 2013 and forty-three years old at the time of the
hearing. ( at 82.) She reported obtaining a bachelor's
degree in music education, a master's degree in secondary
education and that she worked as a school teacher. ( at,
32, 64, 93, 107, 156.) At the time of the hearing, she worked
as the Minister of Music at her church, making $500 a month,
and she played the piano at the Church the Sunday before the
hearing with the ALJ. ( at 65, 156.)
Court has determined that a detailed recitation of the
medical records is not necessary because the ALJ provided a
sufficient summary in the decision.
June 24, 2016 decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's
impairments using the familiar sequential evaluation
process. The ALJ found that while the Plaintiff
worked after the alleged disability onset date, she had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged
onset date, and had the severe impairments of obesity, back
pain, depression, anxiety, and carpal- tunnel syndrome.
See ( at 18-19.) The ALJ also considered the
combined effect of these impairments and determined that they
did not, singly or in combination, meet or medically equal
the criteria for any listed impairment. ( at 20.) After
considering the record, the ALJ found that Williams has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work with some additional limitations. ( at 23.)
The ALJ found that Willams was unable to perform her past
relevant work as a school teacher, but based on her RFC, a
significant number of jobs in the national economy existed
that Plaintiff could perform, and thus she was not disabled.
( at 32-34.)
Court's review is limited to an inquiry into whether
there is substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's findings, Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 390, 401 (1971), and whether the correct legal
standards were applied, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006).
Accord Falco v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 160, 163 (5th Cir.
1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th
Fifth Circuit has defined the “substantial
evidence” standard as follows:
Substantial evidence means 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. It
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.”
Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983).
In applying the substantial evidence standard, the Court must
carefully examine the entire record, but must refrain from
re-weighing the evidence or substituting its judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d
552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). Conflicts in the evidence and
credibility assessments are for the Commissioner and not for
the courts to resolve. Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d
172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995). If the Commissioner's decision
is supported by the evidence, and the proper legal standards
are applied, the decision is conclusive and must be upheld by
this Court. Paul v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 208, 210 (5th
Cir. 1994), overruled on other grounds, Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103 (2000).
OF ALLEGED ERRORS AND APPLICABLE LAW
argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the listings,
specifically Listing 1.04A. She also argues that the RFC is
not supported by substantial evidence, and that the ALJ
failed to comply with SSR 00-4p.
the ALJ Failed to Properly Evaluate Listing 1.04A
Plaintiff avers that the ALJ did not properly evaluate and
consider Listing 1.04A at Step Three, and maintains that the
ALJ erred by not finding that her impairments meet or equal
evidenced by her opinion, in reaching her conclusion
regarding the listings, the ALJ specifically considered
In reaching this conclusion, the undersigned considered
listing 1.04 governing disorders of the spine. The medical
evidence of record does not document any spinal abnormalities
necessary to meet the requirements of Section 1.04 of the
Listings, governing disorders of the spine. There is no
evidence of nerve root compression characterized by
neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of
the spine, motor loss accompanied by sensory or reflex loss
and positive straight-leg raising test; spinal arachnoiditis;
or lumbar spinal stenosis resulting mpseudoclaudication with
inability to ambulate effectively, as required by section
( at 20).
1.04A describes “[d]isorders
of the spine, ” in relevant part, as follows:
Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus,
spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis,
degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral
fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including
the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With ... [e]vidence of
nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic
distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine,
motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle
weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there
is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg
raising test (sitting and supine).
complains that the ALJ simply tracked the language of Listing
1.04 without discussing relevant evidence. However, the ALJ
is not required “to do an exhaustive point-by-point
discussion” of the listings. Audler v. Astrue,
501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 2007). She also discussed
evidence relevant to this listing, in part, in her RFC
analysis. However, even if there was error in not going into
more detail in the listing section of her opinion, the Fifth
Circuit has held that “[p]rocedural perfection in
administrative proceedings is not required. This court will
not vacate a judgment unless the substantial rights of a
party have been affected. . . . The major policy underlying
the harmless error rule is to preserve judgments and to avoid
waste of time.” Anderson v. Sullivan, 887 F.2d
630, 634 (5th Cir. 1989) (quoting Mays v. Bowen, 837
F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir.1988)) (per curiam).
“[P]rocedural improprieties . . . will therefore
constitute a basis for remand only if such improprieties
would cast into doubt the existence of substantial evidence
to support the ALJ's decision.” Alexander v.
Astrue, 412 Fed.Appx. 719, 722 (5th Cir.2011) (emphasis
added); Morris v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 333, 335 (5th
Cir.1988). The ALJ's error is harmless if the substantial
rights of a party have not been affected. See
Alexander, 412 F. App's at 722; see also
Audler, 501 F.3d at 448 (applying harmless error
analysis to the ALJ's failure to state any reason for her
adverse determination at step three).
Commissioner acknowledges that Plaintiff has a disorder of
the spine, degenerative disc disease, but argues that the
record does not reflect evidence to support nerve root
compression for a continuous twelve months. Plaintiff
suggests she experienced each of the five requirements
necessary to show nerve root compression. ( at 38-40.)
While Plaintiff did meet some of the requirements at
different times, the record does not demonstrate she
continuously met all of the five requirements for the listing
for a continuous twelve months.
applicable regulation states that the Social Security
Administration will find that a claimant's impairment
meets the requirements of a listing when it satisfies all of
the criteria of that listing, including any relevant criteria
in the introduction, and meets the duration requirement. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1525(c)(3). The Social Security Act defines
disability as the inability to “engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months.”
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). If a claimant is
unable to establish that the impairment existed for the
requisite period of twelve months, he cannot carry his burden
of meeting the requirements of the relevant listing.
Carrillo v. Astrue, No. CIV.A.SA-09-CA-44-XR, 2010
WL 2136438, at *6 (W.D. Tex. May 26, 2010).
record shows multiple years of full motor strength and normal
muscle tone and bulk in all four of Plaintiffs extremities.
The ALJ also observed in her RFC determination that
Plaintiff's symptoms in 2013 “were generally
normal, with some episodes of low back pain, but that she was
using Flexeril which provided relief and denied current
muscle pain, joint swelling, or ...