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Hudson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

July 8, 2019




         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the claimant Barbra E. Hudson seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for Social Security Disability Benefits. The Commissioner found that Hudson was not disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, despite her severe impairment of lumbar degenerative disc disease. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that Hudson could return to her previous work. Having considered the submissions of the parties and applicable law, the Court concludes that the Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the Commissioner's Decision (ECF No. 16) should be denied and the case remanded.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural Background

         Hudson was 59 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ, and she has a GED. She filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) on August 28, 2014, with an alleged onset date of April 23, 2013. Hudson's last date insured for purposes of the Title II application was December 31, 2015. ECF No. 7 at 18. Hudson's claim was initially denied on October 31, 2014, and upon reconsideration on November 25, 2014. Id. at 78-92. Hudson filed her request for a hearing before an ALJ on December 29, 2014. The ALJ heard Hudson's case on February 6, 2017. The ALJ heard testimony from Hudson as well as from a vocational expert (VE). The ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Hudson on February 14, 2017. Id. at 18-25.

         B. The ALJ's Findings

         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 of proving disability rests upon the claimant throughout the first four steps of this process, and if the claimant is successful in sustaining her burden at each of the first four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Muse v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 785, 789 (5th Cir. 1991). First, the claimant must prove she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must prove her impairment is “severe” in that it “significantly limits [her] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the ALJ must conclude the claimant is disabled if she proves that her impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P to 20 C.F.R. pt. 404. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Accordingly, if a claimant's impairment meets the requisite criteria, that claimant's impairments are of such severity that they would prevent any person from performing substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525.

         Fourth, the claimant bears the burden of proving she is incapable of meeting the physical and/or mental demands of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant is successful at all four of the preceding steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to prove, considering the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and past work experience, that she is capable of performing other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1). If the Commissioner proves other work that the claimant can perform exists (in significant numbers in the national economy), the claimant is given the chance to prove that she cannot, in fact, perform that work. Muse, 925 F.2d at 789.

         In the instant case, the ALJ found at step one that Hudson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 23, 2013, the alleged onset date. ECF No. 7 at 21. At step two, the ALJ found that Hudson had a severe impairment of lumbar degenerative disc disease. Id. At step three, the ALJ determine that Hudson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Part 404. Id. Next, the ALJ determined that Hudson retained the RFC to perform the full range of light work. Id. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Hudson could return to her past relevant work as a waitress. Id. at 24.

         Hudson requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on April 17, 2017. The Appeals Council denied Hudson's request for review on April 21, 2018, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 5-9. Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Hudson commenced the present action by Complaint filed on June 14, 2018. ECF No. 1.

         II. Standard of Review

          Review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to an inquiry into whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings 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, 162 (5th Cir. 1994); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is “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) (quoting Harrell, 862 F.2d at 475).

         III. ...

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