Shaffett v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AND REASONS: IT IS ORDERED that the Magistrate Judge's 14 Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's 15 objections are OVERRULED, DISMISSING Plaintiff's claims.Signed by Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on 3/27/2017.(mmv)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
SECTION “B” (4)
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is a Report and Recommendation (“the Report”)
issued by Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby, upholding the denial
of Plaintiff’s claim for Supplemental Security Income Benefits
(“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 423. Rec. Doc. 14. Plaintiff
timely filed timely objections to the Report and requests that
this Court consider her case. Rec. Doc. 15-1. For the reasons
Recommendation (Rec. Doc. 14) is ADOPTED, overruling objections to
the same (Rec. Doc. 15), and dismissing instant claims.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Lisa Shaffett (“Plaintiff”) filed for SSI Benefits on July 1,
2011, alleging a disability that began on October 10, 2009. Rec.
Doc. 11-3 at 16. Plaintiff is a forty-three-year-old, 5’8” female
with a high school education, who has past relevant work as a
resident service specialist. Rec. Doc. 14 at 1. In her brief to
this Court, Plaintiff claimed that she suffers from degenerative
disc disease with radiculopathy in the cervical and lumbar spine,
anxiety and bipolar disorder, diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea,
migraines, hypertension, and congenital heart disease. Rec. Doc.
12 at 1-2.
Plaintiff’s claim was initially denied on October 24, 2011 by
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”).
Rec. Doc. 14 at 1. Next, the matter was referred to Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Christopher H. Juge of the SSA, who compiled a
hearing on May 9, 2012, denied the claim. Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 1925. Plaintiff appealed the decision and, after a denial from the
Appeals Council, filed a timely complaint with this Court. Rec.
Doc. 1 at 1. The matter was referred to United States Magistrate
Judge Roby to evaluate the claim and submit proposed findings and
recommendations pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). Rec. Doc.
14. She issued a Report recommending that this Court affirm the
ALJ’s decision. Id. at 15.
II. MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S FINDINGS
The Magistrate Judge recommended affirming the ALJ’s decision
Plaintiff’s brief describes interstitial cystitis as a “complex genitourinary
disorder involving recurring pain or discomfort in the bladder and pelvic
region.” Rec. Doc. 12 at 3 (citing SSR 15-1p, 80 Fed. Reg. 14215, 14216,
(effective March 18, 2015)).
evidence. Rec. Doc. 14 at 7-8. She further observed substantial
evidence of record supported the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff
is capable of light work. Rec. Doc. 14 at 15. She also found that
the RFC did not need to include symptoms of interstitial cystitis.
Id. at 9-15.
III. LAW & ANALYSIS
Judicial review of any final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security is limited to (1) whether the final decision is
evaluating the evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brown v. Apfel, 192
F.3d 492, 496 (5th Cir.
1999) (quoting McQueen v. Apfel, 168 F.3d
152, 157 n.2 (5th Cir. 1995)). The Court may not reweigh the
evidence, try the case de novo, or substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434
(5th Cir. 1994).
If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s findings,
then those findings are conclusive and the Court must affirm them.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). Substantial
evidence is more than a scintilla and less than a preponderance,
and is considered relevant evidence such that a reasonable mind
might accept it as adequate to support a conclusion. Ripley v.
Chater, 67 F.3d 552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995)(citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). This Court cannot reweigh the
evidence unless this Court fails to find substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner’s decision. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d
558, 564 (5th Cir. 1995). Nevertheless, this Court must scrutinize
the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the
support it. Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1022 (5th Cir. 1990);
Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343–44 (5th Cir. 1988).
The Court “weigh[s] four elements of proof when determining
whether there is substantial evidence of disability: (1) objective
medical facts; (2) diagnosis and opinions of treating and examining
physicians; (3) the claimant’s subjective evidence of pain and
Hendricks v. Apfel, No. 99–1212, 2000 WL 174884, at *3 (E.D. La.
Feb. 14, 2000) (citing Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th
Cir. 1995)). A reviewing court can only find “no substantial
choices” or “no contrary medical evidence.” Johnson, 864 F.2d at
343–44 (citing Hames v. Heckler, 707 F.2d 162, 164 (5th Cir.
Plaintiff objects that the Commissioner failed to use the
proper legal standard and that his decisions are unsupported by
sequential evaluation process 2: (1) that interstitial cystitis is
not a severe condition, (2) that the RFC need not include the
interstitial cystitis symptoms, and (3) that Plaintiff is capable
of light work. Rec Doc. 15-1.
1. The ALJ and Magistrate Judge used the correct legal
standard to determine whether Plaintiff’s interstitial
cystitis is a severe condition.
Under step two, the ALJ report lists the following impairments
as severe: “degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine,
diabetes mellitus, obesity, and anxiety.” Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 18.
The ALJ found that these conditions are severe impairments under
both the Stone v. Heckler, 752 F.2d 1099 (5th Cir. 1985), standard
and 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c). Id. However, the ALJ report did not
include interstitial cystitis as a severe impairment.
When making a disability determination, the SSA uses a “five-step sequential
evaluation process.” Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 1; see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). If any
step of the sequential evaluation is not satisfied, then the remaining steps
are not considered and the claimant is found not to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4). The five steps are as follows: (1) Is the claimant currently
working, (2) does the claimant have a medically severe impairment, (3) does the
impairment meet or equal an Appendix 1 listing for presumptive disability, (4)
does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing past relevant work,
and (5) does the impairment prevent the claimant from performing any other work?
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v).
To find that Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis was a nonsevere condition, the Commissioner weighed the ability of the
condition to improve with treatment with the actual physical impact
on her ability to work. Rec. Doc. 13 at 4-5. This analysis comports
with the Stone v. Heckler standard that an impairment is not a
severe impairment “only if it is a slight abnormality having such
minimal effect on the individual that it would not be expected to
interfere with the individual’s ability to work.” 752 F.2d at 1099.
The Commissioner found that Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis has
minimal effect on her ability to work, based on her improved
symptoms and the fact that no physician has determined that the
condition limits Plaintiff’s ability to work. Rec. Doc. 13 at 4.
Further, under 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c), a severe impediment
“significantly limits [the claimant’s] physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities.” The Commissioner, by relying on the
same evidence, again found that Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis
does not significantly limit her ability to do work activities.
Rec. Doc. 13 at 4.
Using both the Stone v. Heckler and 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c)
standards of severity, the Commissioner, the ALJ (Rec. Doc. 11-3
at 18), and the Magistrate Judge (Rec. Doc. 14 at 7-8)
the correct legal standard to find that Plaintiff’s interstitial
cystitis was non-severe.
2. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that
Plaintiff’s condition was not severe.
The next issue is whether the ALJ’s decision to find that
interstitial cystitis is not severe under the Stone v. Heckler and
In describing the evidence upon which he relied, the ALJ
cystitis produced such functional limitations that Plaintiff was
incapable of doing light work. Rec. Doc. 13 at 4. Plaintiff
reportedly did well in treatment as recently as April of 2013, her
symptoms significantly improved, and her urinary frequency was
reduced by 50% since a February of 2012 clinic visit and physical
examination. Id. at 4-5. Further, the physical examination at the
February 2012 clinic visit was “essentially normal,” even though
urinary incontinence, [and] vaginal hyperpigmented lesion.” Rec.
Doc. 11-3 at 22. Earlier, in June of 2011, Plaintiff was diagnosed
with “‘neurogenic bladder,’ although a cystogram was normal.” Id.
The medical reports from multiple clinicians, along with the
cystitis limited her ability to work, is more than a scintilla of
evidence (See Ripley, 67 F.3d at 555). Such evidence is sufficient
for a reasonable mind to find that the condition is a slight
abnormality and non-severe; thus, the ALJ’s finding was based on
interstitial cystitis was no more than a slight abnormality with
minimal effect on her ability to work (Rec. Doc. 13 at 4) and this
Court finds that there is substantial evidence to support this
support a finding that her interstitial cystitis is non-severe,
considered by the ALJ. Rec. Doc. 15-1 at 2. The evidence she relies
on does not contradict the evidence relied on by the Commissioner.
He presumably considered the evidence highlighted by Plaintiff,
but found it unpersuasive or insignificant in light of the other
evidence before him. Further, it is Plaintiff’s burden to prove
that the condition is disabling and limits her ability to work.
Demandre v. Califano, 591 F.2d 1088, 1090 (5th Cir. 1979). Here,
Plaintiff failed to satisfy this burden.
3. The RFC considered Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis,
medical, and nonmedical evidence to determine Plaintiff’s
claimant’s impairments and the related symptoms that affect the
claimant’s abilities in a work setting, and produces these findings
in a RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). The RFC will include all
medically determinable impairments, regardless of whether they
were considered “severe” in step two of the sequential evaluation
process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2). Further, the RFC must include
the limiting effects of all impairments by considering all medical
effects.’ 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(e).
SSA ALJ Juge, under step four of the sequential evaluation
ailments and their limitations on her ability to work. Rec. Doc.
11-3 at 19-24. Plaintiff objects that the ALJ failed to include
her symptoms of interstitial cystitis (Rec. Doc. 15-1 at 3), but
this is not the case. When recounting Plaintiff’s testimony and
medical records, the RFC states
[Plaintiff] was told to return to her urologist. She has
been told she has a ‘neurogenic bladder’ and she uses
the bathroom 20 times daily and has accidents. . . .
[Plaintiff] cannot work due to constant pain and
frequent use of the restroom. . . . [O]n February 28[,
2011]. . . [Plaintiff] requested a referral to a
urologist. . . . Later that month, the urologist
diagnosed ‘neurogenic bladder’ although a cystogram was
normal. . . . On February 10[, 2012], [Plaintiff]
presented to the MCLNO clinic for complaints of ‘leaking
urine and constipation for one year,’ claiming urinary
frequency 20 times per day and four times at night, at
times wetting the bed. Physical examination was
essentially normal, and she was diagnosed with posterior
wall prolapse, mixed urinary incontinence, vaginal
hyperpigmented lesion, and controlled diabetes. . . .
[Plaintiff now] also reports incontinence, and that she
uses the restroom up to 20 times per day, but has only
recently (in February) sought treatment after allegedly
suffering this symptom for over a year. There is no
evidence of impending surgery and no further follow-up
Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 20-23. The RFC specifically includes both the
nonmedical testimony regarding Plaintiff’s pain, treatments, and
interruptions. Id. Plaintiff’s third objection therefore has no
4. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that
Plaintiff is capable of light work.
Under step five of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
administrative assessment and her capacity to perform work-related
activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945. The ALJ reviews the totality
of the evidence, including medical, testimonial, and documentary
evidence. Id. The ALJ must first determine whether there is an
underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment
that could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant’s pain
or other symptoms. Id. Once such impairment has been shown, the
ALJ must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of the claimant’s symptoms to determine the extent to which they
limit the claimant’s functioning. Id. Here, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff could perform “light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(b) and specified that this performance was “limited to
simple, unskilled work.” Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 19.
For the first prong, Plaintiff objects that the substantial
evidence does not support a finding of light work. Rec. Doc. 15-1
at 5. The ALJ based his conclusion that Plaintiff is capable of
light work on the opinion of Charles Lee, M.D., a state agency
reviewing physician. Rec. Docs. 11-3 at 24; 13 at 7. Dr. Lee opined
that Plaintiff could “occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds;
frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk for about
six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for about six hours in an
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps
and stairs; and never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” Rec.
Doc. 13 at 7. In light of these findings, Dr. Lee opined that
Plaintiff could perform light work. Id. The ALJ noted that these
findings were consistent with the medical opinions of Sandra
Durdin, Ph.D., a consultative psychologist, and Darla Burnett,
Ph.D., a state reviewing psychologist. Rec. Doc. 13 at 6-7.
In her objection, Plaintiff specifically argues that the
weight of the medical evidence is against a finding of light work.
However, all the evidence cited by Plaintiff in her objection was
included in the ALJ’s RFC. Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 20-24. Yet, there
were also three consistent medical opinions to support the finding
that Plaintiff is capable of doing the work intended under 20
C.F.R. § 416.945(b). This is substantial medical evidence to
support the ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff is capable of doing
For the second prong, Plaintiff objects that the ALJ ignored
her subjective accounts of pain that limits her ability to work.
medical evidence on the record; Plaintiff’s daily activities; the
factors; medications that Plaintiff has taken; other treatment
Plaintiff has undergone; Plaintiff’s lack of consistent mental
health treatment; other measures that Plaintiff has taken to
limitations as addressed in the RFC. Rec. Docs. 13 at 8; Rec. Doc.
concluded that “[Plaintiff]’s medically determinable impairment
could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms;
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible
functional capacity assessment.” Rec. Doc. 11-3 at 23. The ALJ
concluded that the subjective limiting effects were not credible
because they were contrary to medical opinions as to the actual
limitations of the underlying medical impairments. Id.
Plaintiff objected to the ALJ and Magistrate Judge using the
conflicting reason for her leaving work and onset of her conditions
as the basis for determining her credibility. Rec. Doc. 15-1 at 45. However, the contradictions found by the ALJ and Magistrate
Judge are not limited to the Plaintiff’s reasons for leaving work,
as Plaintiff contends, but also include Plaintiff’s unsupported
testimony regarding her ability to sleep and limited motion. Rec.
Docs. 11-3 at 23-24; 14 at 10. These inconsistencies, along with
the medical evidence, are substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s
Plaintiff’s objections do not demonstrate any error with the
Magistrate Judge’s Report. Plaintiff’s first objection that the
ALJ and magistrate judge failed to use the correct legal standard
has no merit. The ALJ and magistrate judge evaluated the severity
of Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis under both the Stone v.
Heckler standard and 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c). Plaintiff’s second
objection has no merit because substantial evidence, including
medical evidence and opinions considered by the ALJ, supports the
third objection that the ALJ failed to consider her symptoms of
interstitial cystitis in the RFC has no merit because the ALJ
Plaintiff’s interstitial cystitis in the RFC. Plaintiff’s fourth
objection has no merit because there was substantial evidence in
the form of medical evidence, records, and opinions to support a
finding of light work, despite Plaintiff’s subjective complaints
to the contrary.
Because the Report does not present clear error and Plaintiff
failed to raise valid objections in light of substantial evidence
of record to support the ALJ’s findings,
Recommendation (Rec. Doc. 14) is ADOPTED;
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s objections (Rec. Doc.
15) are OVERRULED, DISMISSING Plaintiff's claims.
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 27th day of March, 2017.
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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