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Jackson v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 1, 2019

GLENDA ANN JACKSON PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Michael T. Parker United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Glenda Ann Jackson 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. Having considered the parties' submissions, the record, and the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that Defendant's Motion to Affirm [12] be GRANTED, the Commissioner's final decision be AFFIRMED, and this action be DISMISSED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 7, 2014, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability due to a back impairment, carpal tunnel syndrome, anxiety, depression, obesity, and neck problems. (Administrative Record [10] at 348-55). After the agency denied Plaintiff's claim, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing, and on April 28, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. ([10] at 19-27). Plaintiff then appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. On February 21, 2018, the Appeals Council found that the issues submitted for review did not provide a basis for changing the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. ([10] at 5-7). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

         In his April 28, 2017 decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential analysis set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f)[1] and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after November 15, 2013, her alleged disability onset date. ([10] at 21).

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's back impairment was severe. Additionally, the ALJ determined that the following medically determinable impairments were not severe: anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, obesity, and neck problems. ([10] at 21). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. ([10] at 23).

         The ALJ then examined the record and determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to “perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), [3] except the claimant can rarely climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, she can frequently climb ramps and stairs, and can frequently stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl.” ([10] at 23). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a work order processor. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. ([10] at 27).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied in evaluating the evidence. Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1382 (5th Cir. 1988). 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.” Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1983). To be substantial, the evidence “must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established.” Id. (citations omitted).

         However, “[a] finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision.” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner, not the courts, to resolve. Selders v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 1990). A court may not re-weigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's, “even if the evidence preponderates against” the Commissioner's decision. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). If the decision is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed. Selders, 914 F.2d at 617. Moreover, “[p]rocedural perfection in administrative proceedings is not required as long as ‘the substantial rights of a party have not been affected.'” Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Mays v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir. 1988)).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff raises two issues for review: (1) whether the ALJ erred by failing to apply the “de minimis[4] step two standard with respect to Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of carpal tunnel syndrome, and thereafter, further erred by not accounting for it in his ultimate RFC finding and (2) whether the ALJ erred by failing to consider Plaintiff's work history as part of his credibility assessment.

         Issue 1: Whether the ALJ erred by failing to apply the de minimis step two standard with respect to Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of carpal tunnel syndrome, and thereafter, further erred by not accounting for it in his ultimate RFC finding.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to apply the correct standard at step two, by failing to consider all the medical records and Plaintiff's testimony regarding her carpal tunnel syndrome, and by failing to account for limitations related to carpal tunnel syndrome in Plaintiff's RFC.

         Plaintiff first argues that the standard for determining the severity of an impairment was not correctly applied. The ALJ's opinion, however, states that an impairment is not severe “when medical and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work.” ([10] at 20). This standard is compliant with both the Code of Federal Regulations ...


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