Mulet-Rivera v. Barnhart, No. CIV.A.H 05 1850.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
Writing for the CourtBotley
Citation437 F.Supp.2d 616
PartiesEster MULET-RIVERA, Plaintiff, v. Jo Anne B. BARNHART, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Decision Date22 June 2006
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A.H 05 1850.

Page 616

437 F.Supp.2d 616
Ester MULET-RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
Jo Anne B. BARNHART, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
No. CIV.A.H 05 1850.
United States District Court, S.D. Texas, ouston Division.
June 22, 2006.

Page 617

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Michael J Hengst, Hengst & Henderson, Houston, TX, for Ester Mulet-Rivera, Plaintiff.

Tasha Williams Stevenson, Office of General Counsel for the SS Admin, Dallas, TX, for Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

BOTLEY, United States Magistrate Judge.


Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Ester Mulet—Rivera's ("Rivera") and Defendant Jo Anne B. Barnhart's, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), cross-motions for summary judgment. Rivera appeals the determination of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALP) that she is not entitled to receive Title II disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. Having reviewed the pending motions, the submissions of the parties, the pleadings, the

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administrative record, and the applicable law, this Court is of the opinion that Rivera's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry No. 14) should be denied, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry No. 15) should be granted, and the ALJ's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.

I. Background

On May 26, 2000, Rivera filed an application for disability insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), claiming that she had been disabled and unable to work since October 25, 1999. (R. 59). Rivera alleges that she suffers from fibromyalgia.1 (R. 12). After being denied benefits initially and on reconsideration (R. 23-24, 27-30), Rivera requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. (R. 22).

A hearing was held on March 27, 2002, in Bellaire, Texas, at which time the ALJ heard testimony from Rivera, Byron Pettingill, Ph.D. ("Pettingill"), a vocational expert ("VE"), and Lloyd C. Jones, M.D. ("Dr. Jones"), a medical expert. (R. 323-359). In a decision dated April 17, 2002, the ALJ denied Rivera's application for benefits. (R. 12-21). On June 19, 2002, Rivera filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the SSA's Office of Hearings and Appeals. (R. 7). After receiving additional evidence from Rivera, on March 31, 2005, the Appeals Council denied Rivera's request to review the ALJ's determination. (R. 3-6). This rendered the ALJ's opinion the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 147 L.Ed.2d 80 (2000). Rivera filed her original complaint in this case on May 24, 2005, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her claim of benefits. See Docket Entry No. 1.

II. Analysis

A. Statutory Bases for Benefits

Social Security disability insurance benefits are authorized by Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act") and are funded by Social Security taxes. See also SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, SOCIAL SECURITY HANDBOOK, § 2100. The disability insurance program provides income to individuals who are forced into involuntary, premature retirement, provided they are both insured and disabled, regardless of indigence. A claimant for disability insurance can collect benefits for up to twelve months of disability prior to the filing of an application. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.131, 404.315; Ortego v. Weinberger, 516 F.2d 1005, 1007 n. 1 (5th Cir.1975); see also Perkins v. Chater, 107 F.3d 1290, 1295 (7th Cir.1997). For purposes of Title II disability benefits, Rivera met the special earnings requirements on October 25, 1999, her alleged onset date, and continued to meet the requirements through the date of the ALJ's decision (i.e., April 17, 2002), but not thereafter. (R. 19). Consequently, to be eligible for disability benefits, Rivera must prove that she was disabled on or before April 17, 2002.

Applicants seeking disability benefits under Title II must prove "disability" within the meaning of the Act. Under Title II, disability 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." See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

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B. Standard of Review

1. Summary Judgment

The court may grant summary judgment under FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c) when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

An issue of fact is "material" only if its resolution could affect the outcome of the case. See Duplantis v. Shell Offshore, Inc., 948 F.2d 187, 189 (5th Cir.1991). When deciding whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the court shall draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and deny the motion if there is some evidence to support the nonmoving party's position. See McAllister v. Resolution Trust Corp., 201 F.3d 570, 574 (5th Cir.2000). If there are no issues of material fact, the court shall review any questions of law de novo. See Merritt—Campbell, Inc. v. RxP Prods., Inc., 164 F.3d 957, 961 (5th Cir.1999). Once the movant properly supports the motion, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must present specific and supported material facts, of significant probative value, to preclude summary judgment. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); International Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL—CIO v. Compania Mexicana de Aviation, S.A. de C.V., 199 F.3d 796, 798 (5th Cir.2000).

2. Administrative Determination

Judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of denial of disability benefits is limited to whether the final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the proper legal standards were applied to evaluate the evidence. See Masterson v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir.2002). "Substantial evidence" means that the evidence must be enough to allow a reasonable mind to support the Commissioner's decision; it must be more than a mere scintilla and less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272; Brown, 192 F.3d at 496.

When applying the substantial evidence standard on review, the court "scrutinize[s] the record to determine whether such evidence is present." Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir.2001) (citations omitted). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. See Watson v. Barnhart, 288 F.3d 212, 215 (5th Cir.2002). Alternatively, a finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings support the decision. See Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704 (5th Cir.2001). The court may not, however, reweigh the evidence, try the issues de novo, or substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272. In short, "[c]onflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner and not the courts to resolve." Id.

C. ALJ's Determination

An ALJ must engage in a fivestep sequential inquiry to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing "substantial gainful activity," or is, in fact, disabled:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found disabled regardless of the medical findings. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

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2. An individual who does not have a "severe impairment" will not be found to be disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).

3. An individual who "meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1" of the regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

4. If an individual is capable of performing the work she has done in the past, a finding of "not disabled" must be made. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

5. If an individual's impairment precludes performance of her past work, then other factors, including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if any work can be performed. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 453 (5th Cir.2000); accord Boyd v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 698, 704-05 (5th Cir.2001). The claimant has the burden to prove disability under the first four steps. Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir.2001). If the claimant successfully carries this burden, the burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to show that other substantial gainful employment is available in the national economy, which the claimant is capable of performing. See Masterson, 309 F.3d at 272; Greenspan, v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir.1994). If the Commissioner is able to verify that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform in spite of her existing impairments, the burden shifts back to the claimant to prove that she cannot, in fact, perform the alternate work suggested. See Boyd, 239 F.3d at 705. A finding that a claimant is disabled or is not disabled at any point in the five-step review is conclusive and terminates the analysis. See id.

The mere presence of an impairment does not necessarily establish a disability. See Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 293 (5th Cir.1992). An individual claiming disability benefits under the Act has the burden to prove that she suffers from a disability as defined by the Act. See...

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1 practice notes
  • Myers v. Saul, SA-20-CV-00445-XR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • September 3, 2021
    ...must instead be determined whether substantial evidence indicates an applicant can work despite having pain. Mulet-Rivera v. Barnhart, 437 F.Supp.2d 616, 634 (S.D. Tex. 2006). Based on the record, the Court does not doubt that Myers suffers from pain, but substantial evidence supports the A......
1 cases
  • Myers v. Saul, SA-20-CV-00445-XR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • September 3, 2021
    ...must instead be determined whether substantial evidence indicates an applicant can work despite having pain. Mulet-Rivera v. Barnhart, 437 F.Supp.2d 616, 634 (S.D. Tex. 2006). Based on the record, the Court does not doubt that Myers suffers from pain, but substantial evidence supports the A......

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