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Gilliland v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

June 3, 2019




         This 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 Heather Tamarra Gilliland for supplemental security income 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.

         The 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.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On October 31, 2013, Heather Tamarra Gilliland filed her application for SSI, alleging disability since January 1, 2011. After the application was denied at the lower levels, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on November 4, 2015, with a supplemental hearing on May 10, 2016. An unfavorable decision was issued on May 25, 2016. The Appeals Council denied review. The case is now before this court on appeal.

         The ALJ found that Gilliland's back disorders, affective mood disorder, anxiety-related disorders, and personality disorder were severe impairments. After determining that the claimant did not meet any listed impairment, the ALJ determined Gilliland's residual functional capacity, finding she could perform light work with the following limitations: lifting and/or carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sitting, standing, and walking up to six hour in an eight-hour workday; and unlimited pushing and pulling up to her carrying capacity. The ALJ found she could understand, remember, and carry out simple and detailed instructions, respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations-but would work best with objects rather than people-and deal with occasional changes in a routine work setting.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Gilliland was incapable of performing past relevant work as a cashier. However, finding that the nonexertional impairments had little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled light work, the ALJ determined that other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy and that claimant was not disabled.

         The claimant asserts the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and is not based upon proper legal standards because the ALJ erred in (1) evaluating Dr. Pamela Buck's reports, (2) weighing the state agency consultant's opinions, and (3) not ordering a physical consultative examination.

         Law and Standard of Review

         This 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 as 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).

         In determining disability, the Commissioner, through the ALJ, works through a five-step sequential process.[1] 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.[2] First, claimant must prove he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.[3] Second, claimant 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 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.[5] Fourth, claimant bears the burden of proving he is incapable of meeting the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work.[6] 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.[7] If the Commissioner proves other work exists which claimant can perform, claimant is given the chance to prove that he cannot, in fact, perform that work.[8]

         Analysis and Discussion

         I. Dr. Buck

         Dr. Buck performed two psychological consultative examinations on claimant in 2014 and 2016. In March 2014, she found Gilliland was “unable to interact appropriately with others consistently, able to manage her own finances, and fairly able to maintain attention and concentration. She is able to perform routine and repetitive tasks.”[9] In February 2016, Dr. Buck opined that claimant was “unable to interact appropriately with others consistently, unable to manage her own finances, and unable to maintain attention and concentration. She is able to perform routine repetitive tasks, but is likely hindered by poor initiative and ...

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