Acosta v. Astrue, No. EP–10–CV–00471–DCG.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
Writing for the CourtDAVID C. GUADERRAMA
Citation865 F.Supp.2d 767
PartiesCarmen ACOSTA, Plaintiff, v. Michael ASTRUE, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. EP–10–CV–00471–DCG.
Decision Date02 March 2012

865 F.Supp.2d 767

Carmen ACOSTA, Plaintiff,
v.
Michael ASTRUE, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

No. EP–10–CV–00471–DCG.

United States District Court,
W.D. Texas,
El Paso Division.

March 2, 2012.


[865 F.Supp.2d 770]


Cheryl L. Langston, The Law Office of Cheryl Langston, Forney, TX, for Plaintiff.

Angeline Sue Johnson–Reese, Dallas, TX, for Defendant.


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID C. GUADERRAMA, United States Magistrate Judge.

This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision. Plaintiff, Carmen Acosta (“Acosta”), appeals from the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the District Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Upon consent of the parties, the District Court, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Appendix C of the Local Court Rules for this district, transferred the case to this Court for further proceedings and entry of judgment. After careful consideration of the parties' briefs, the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) written decision, and the record evidence, the Court, for the reasons set forth below, finds that the final decision of the Commissioner should be AFFIRMED.

I. BACKGROUND

Acosta, who was born in Mexico in 1960, was forty-nine years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. R. 32, 96, 218.1 She is fluent in Spanish, but cannot speak, understand, read, or write in English. R. 122–23. She earned a sixth-grade education in Mexico. R. 32. In 2005, she obtained her general equivalency diploma (GED). R. 129. Her job experience includes working as a meat packer, technician, and machine operator. For nine years, she worked full-time as a machine operator at a manufacturing facility (Thermotech, Inc.). R. 32, 131. At that job, in an eight-hour work day, she walked for two hours and stood for two hours, and frequently lifted fifty pounds or more. R. 135. The facility was later closed and she was laid off in or about 2004. R. 32, 131. Since then, she has held various temporary jobs. R. 33, 131. Most recently, since March 2009, she is employed as a sewing machine operator at a garment manufacturing company that hires people with disabilities; she landed that job with assistance from the Texas

[865 F.Supp.2d 771]

Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services. R. 34–35, 177.

On March 14, 2008, Acosta filed an application for disability insurance benefits due to depression, hearing loss, high blood pressure (hypertension), and migraine, claiming a disability onset date of January 3, 2008. R. 123, 151. The state agency responsible for making initial disability determinations denied her application initially on June 12, 2008, and later upon reconsideration on August 18, 2008. Acosta requested a review of the denial by an ALJ. The ALJ held a de novo hearing on October 20, 2009. Represented by her attorney, Acosta appeared and testified at the hearing. She testified with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. R. 31. The ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to her, finding that from January 3, 2008, through November 19, 2009, the date of the ALJ's decision, she was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and was not entitled to the requested benefits. R. 24. On September 22, 2010, the Social Security Appeals Council denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision. R. 4.

Subsequently, Acosta filed a complaint with the District Court, seeking judicial review of the administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. The motion was granted by this Court. Upon filing of an answer by the Commissioner, Acosta, on May 16, 2011, filed a brief in support of her request that the Court reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, additional administrative proceedings. Pl.'s Br. in Support of Claim 11 [hereinafter Pl.'s Br.], ECF No. 24. On June 15, the Commissioner responded with a brief in support of its decision to deny benefits. Br. in Support of Comm'r's Decision 10 [hereinafter Comm'r's Br.], ECF No. 25.

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Standard of Review

Where, as here, the Appeals Council has declined to review the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner. Higginbotham v. Barnhart, 405 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir.2005). Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is limited to two inquires: (1) whether the Commissioner used the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence and (2) whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir.2002); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’ ” Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir.1994) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). “ ‘It is more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance.’ ” Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir.2001) (quoting Harris v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 413, 417 (5th Cir.2000)). “If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, then the findings are conclusive and the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed.” Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 173 (5th Cir.1995) ( per curiam ) (citations omitted). If, on the other hand, the Commissioner's findings are not supported by substantial evidence, or the Commissioner incorrectly applied the law, the reviewing court may, inter alia, reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case for further proceedings. Murkeldove v. Astrue, 635 F.3d 784, 792 (5th Cir.2011) (discussing a remand pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).

[865 F.Supp.2d 772]

In determining whether substantial evidence of disability is present, the court “weighs four factors: (1) objective medical evidence; (2) diagnoses and opinions; (3) the claimant's subjective evidence of pain and disability; and (4) the claimant's age, education, and work history.” Perez v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 457, 462 (5th Cir.2005) (citing Wren v. Sullivan, 925 F.2d 123, 126 (5th Cir.1991)). The court must scrutinize the entire record to determine whether such evidence is present, but it may not reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if the evidence weighs against the Commissioner's decision. Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir.2001) ( per curiam ); Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir.2000). A finding of no substantial evidence, however, is appropriate only “where there is a conspicuous absence of credible choices or no contrary medical evidence.” Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343–44 (5th Cir.1988) ( per curiam ) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

B. The Standard for Entitlement to Social Security Benefits and Burden of Proof

An individual applying for benefits bears the initial burden of proving that he or she suffers from a disability, which is defined 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Perez, 415 F.3d at 461 (citations omitted). “Substantial gainful activity is defined as work activity involving significant physical or mental abilities for pay or profit.” Newton, 209 F.3d at 452–53 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a)-(b)).

In evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner is required to conduct a five-step sequential analysis to determine “(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity (whether the claimant is working); (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work (whether the claimant can return to his [or her] old job); and (5) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work.” Perez, 415 F.3d at 461 (citations omitted). The claimant bears the burden of showing that she is disabled through the first four steps of the analysis; on the fifth, the Commissioner must show that there is other substantial work in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Audler v. Astrue, 501 F.3d 446, 448 (5th Cir.2007). “ ‘Once the Commissioner makes this showing, the burden shifts back to the claimant to rebut this finding.’ ” Perez, 415 F.3d at 461 (quoting Newton, 209 F.3d at 453).

If, at any step, the Commissioner can determine that the claimant is disabled or not disabled, that ends the analysis. Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 58 (5th Cir.1987). If, however, the Commissioner cannot make such a finding, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Perez, 415 F.3d at 461. Before considering the fourth and fifth steps, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is, in layman's terms, her maximum work capability. Id. at 461–62; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a). “The claimant's RFC is used at both steps four and five of the sequential analysis: at the fourth step to determine if the claimant can still do his [or her] past relevant

[865 F.Supp.2d 773]

work, and at the fifth step to determine whether the claimant can adjust to any other type of work.” Perez, 415 F.3d at 462 (citing § 404.1520(e)).

III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS ON APPEAL

The ALJ found, as a threshold matter, that Acosta's last date insured was December 31, 2011. R. 20. At Step One of the five-step sequential process, the...

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33 practice notes
  • Davis v. Colvin, CIVIL ACTION NO. 13-5263 SECTION "S" (2)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • 17 Marzo 2014
    ...v. Chater, 83 F.3d 419, 1996 WL 197501, at *3 (5th Cir. 1996); Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 59 (5th Cir. 1987); Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012); Quintanilla v. Astrue, 619 F. Supp. 2d 306, 321 (S.D. Tex. June 27, 2008); see also Thibodeaux v. Astrue, 324 F. Ap......
  • Hayes v. Colvin, CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-129 SECTION "J" (2)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • 8 Octubre 2014
    ...237 F.3d 632, 2000 WL 1701816, at *1 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2000); Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 59 (5th Cir. 1987); Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012); Quintanilla v. Astrue, 619 F. Supp. 2d 306, 321 (S.D. Tex. June 27, 2008). The ALJ found that plaintiff's medical co......
  • Healer v. Saul, SA-19-CV-01497-ESC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • 3 Diciembre 2020
    ...with matters of credibility, and the ALJ's credibility determinations are generally entitled to great deference." Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012) (citing Newton, 209 F.3d at 459 (internal quotation omitted)).Page 13 After reviewing Plaintiff's medical records and......
  • Powell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:19-CV-918-HTW-RPM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi
    • 2 Febrero 2021
    ...work-related tasks." See, e.g., Doc. [10], at 16-17. This is the same standard merely stated in the active voice. Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 781 (W.D. Tex. 2012) (collecting cases).3 ThePage 10 ALJ's paraphrasing of Stone is materially indistinguishable. Doc. [10], at 16-17; Sal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • Davis v. Colvin, CIVIL ACTION NO. 13-5263 SECTION "S" (2)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • 17 Marzo 2014
    ...v. Chater, 83 F.3d 419, 1996 WL 197501, at *3 (5th Cir. 1996); Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 59 (5th Cir. 1987); Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012); Quintanilla v. Astrue, 619 F. Supp. 2d 306, 321 (S.D. Tex. June 27, 2008); see also Thibodeaux v. Astrue, 324 F. Ap......
  • Hayes v. Colvin, CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-129 SECTION "J" (2)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • 8 Octubre 2014
    ...237 F.3d 632, 2000 WL 1701816, at *1 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2000); Lovelace v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 55, 59 (5th Cir. 1987); Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012); Quintanilla v. Astrue, 619 F. Supp. 2d 306, 321 (S.D. Tex. June 27, 2008). The ALJ found that plaintiff's medical co......
  • Healer v. Saul, SA-19-CV-01497-ESC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • 3 Diciembre 2020
    ...with matters of credibility, and the ALJ's credibility determinations are generally entitled to great deference." Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 790 (W.D. Tex. 2012) (citing Newton, 209 F.3d at 459 (internal quotation omitted)).Page 13 After reviewing Plaintiff's medical records and......
  • Powell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:19-CV-918-HTW-RPM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi
    • 2 Febrero 2021
    ...work-related tasks." See, e.g., Doc. [10], at 16-17. This is the same standard merely stated in the active voice. Acosta v. Astrue, 865 F. Supp. 2d 767, 781 (W.D. Tex. 2012) (collecting cases).3 ThePage 10 ALJ's paraphrasing of Stone is materially indistinguishable. Doc. [10], at 16-17; Sal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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