Caro v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER. Ordered that the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.. Signed by Judge Miguel A. Torres. (lc3)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
EL PASO DIVISION
MARIA LINA CARO,
CAROLYN W. COL YIN,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, §
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This is a civil action seeking judicial review of an administrative decision pursuant to 42
405(g). Plaintiff Maria Lina Caro ("Caro") appeals from the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. Both parties
having consented to trial on the merits before a United States Magistrate Judge, the case was
transferred to this Court for trial and entry of judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Local Court Rule
CV-72. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIR1\'WD
Caro worked for Old El Paso for approximately twenty years packing chili into gallon
cans and stacking boxes, and later for Sam's Club as a products demonstrator and in the clothing
department. (R. 32).' She was sixty-two years old at the time of her hearing before the
Reference to the record of administrative proceedings is designated by (R.[page number(s)]).
Administrative Law Judge
(R. 32). Caro filed an application for DIB on November 28,
2011, in which she alleged disability beginning January 5, 2010,2 due to arthritis, high blood
pressure, a thyroid disorder, high cholesterol, back pain, and shingles. (R. 131-35, 151). After her
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Caro requested
hearing. (R. 58-68).
On December 11, 2012, she appeared with her attorney for a videoconference hearing before the
(R. 29-51). On February 12, 2013, the AU issued a written decision denying benefits on
the ground that Caro is able to perform past relevant work. (R. 16-23). On April9, 2014, the
Appeals Council denied Caro's request for review, thereby making the AU's decision the
Commissioner's final administrative decision. (R. 1-5).
Caro argues that: (1) the AU's residual functional capacity ("RFC") finding is not
supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the AU committed an error by fai1thgtOdirectly
address Carb's obesity.
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court's review is limited to a determination of whether the Commissioner's final
decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in evaluating the evidence. Myersv. Ape!, 238
F.3d 617, 619 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Greenspan
S/ia/ala, 38 F.3d 232, 236 (5th Cir. 1994)).
Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion. Ripley
Chater, 67 F.3d
552, 555 (5th Cir. 1995). A finding of "no substantial evidence" will be made only where there is
Caro's attorney moved to have the onset date amended to January
2011, during the hearing.
a "conspicuous absence of credible choices" or "no contrary medical evidence." Abshire
Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988).
In determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the
Commissioner, the Court must carefully examine the entire record, but may not reweigh the
evidence or try the issues de novo. Newton
Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000). The
Court may not substitute its own judgment "even if the evidence preponderates against the
[Commissioner's] decision" because substantial evidence is less than a preponderance: H&rrell v.
Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner
and not the courts to resolve. Speliman
F.3d 357, 360 (5th Cir. 1993). If the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards and his findings are supported by substantial
evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. Id.
ANALYSIS OF CARO'S CLAIMS
RFC is Supported by Substantial Evidence
RFC is defined as the most an individual can still do despite her limitations; 20 C.F.R.
404.1545. The responsibility to determine the claimant's RFC belongs to the AU. Ripley, 67
F.3d at 557. In making this determination, the AU must consider all the record evidence and
determine Plaintiff's abilities despite any physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
The AU must consider the limiting effects of Plaintiff's impairments, even those that are nonsevere, and any related symptoms. See 20 C.F.R.
404.1545, 404.1529. However, a claimant's
own subjective complaints, without supporting objective medical evidence, are insufficient to
establish disability. See 20 C.F.R.
404.1508, 404.1528, 404.1529. The AU is not required to
incorporate limitations in the RFC that she did not find to be supported in the record. See Morris
F.2d 333, 336 (5th Cir. 1988).
The AU determined that Caro had the RFC to perform light work with the following
limitations: (1) she can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; (2) she can frequently finger
and feel. (R. 20). Caro argues that she is unable to perform the standing/walking requirements of
light work. (ECF. No. 23, at 4); see SSR 83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *6 ("[T]he full range of light
work requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour
workday."). In support of her argument, Caro repeatedly references her medical records,
including: (1) an October 2010 physical examination and Magnetic Resonance Imaging ('MRI")
showing issues with Caro's spine; (2) a January 2011 physical examination; (3) a June 2011
physical examination in which Caro complained of cramping and numbness in her legs; (4) a
January 2012 physical examination in which Caro complained of right knee swelling and an Xray showing a prominent spur in the suprapatellar region; and (5) a Janualy 23; 2012,
consultative examination by Onyema Amakiri, D.O., and several X-rays. (ECF No. 23, t'4-5).
As an initial matter, the Court notes that the AU discussed and appropriately considered
all of the aforementioned medical evidence. (R. 21). Moreover, none of the medical findings in
the records of those physical examinations contradict the
AU' s determination that Caro had the
RFC to perform a limited range of light work, with no exceptions needed for the standing and
walking requirements. (R. 238-39, 241, 252, 260-62, 280, 293-94). Finally, mere recitâtionsof
Caro's claims about her physical limitations are insufficient to establish the ALJened in her
RFC determination. The Court can only conclude that Caro is requesting a reweighing of the
evidence, which is not permitted.
Several findings by medical experts support the
AU's RFC determination.
opined that Caro "has no limitations with
moving about, standing and sitting." (R. 294).
Moreover, a state agency medical expert, Samara Turner, M.D., reviewed Caro's medical history
and concluded that she can stand or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour work day, and noted that
Caro's self-described limitations are not fully supported by medical evidence. (R. 298-305). A
second state agency medical expert, Kelvin Samaratunga, M.D., affirmed Dr. Turner's opinion
regarding Caro's functional abilities. (R. 316). Thus, the Court concludes that the AU's
determination of Caro's RFC is supported by substantial evidence in the record.
The AU Committed a Harmless Error by not Addressing Caro 's Obe1iy
Caro argues that the AU erred in failing to consider her obesity when determining her
RFC. (ECF No. 23, at 7). Social Security Ruling 02-1P instructs an AU to consider the effects of
obesity when determining a claimant's RFC, including the fact that "the combined effects of
obesity with other impairments can be greater than the effects of each of the impairments
considered separately." SSR 02-1P, 2002 WL 34686281, at *1. The AU
assumptions about the severity or functional effects of obesity combined with other
impairments," but instead must individually assess each case based on the medical evidence in
the record. Id. at *6. There is no requirement for procedural perfection in administrative
proceedings, and courts will not vacate a judgment unless a party's substantial rights have been
affected. Mays v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1362, 1364 (5th Cir. 1988). Generally, the burden of showing
that an error is harmful rests with the party challenging the agency's determination. Shinseki v
Sanders, 556U.S. 396, 409 (2009).
Although the AU did not directly address Caro's obesity, Caro has failed to show that
omission was harmful. The AU stated that she considered all symptoms of Caro's impairments,
including her high blood pressure, thyroid condition, cholesterol, back problems, shingles, and
severe pain in her knees, hips, hands, fingers, feet, and lower back. (R. 20). The symptoms of
those impairments are such that they may be aggravated or even caused by Caro' s obesity, and
thus the AU effectively addressed the impact of Caro's obesity on her ability to work. See
Astrue, 627 F. Supp. 2d 719, 727 (W.D. La. 2009) (finding that even though the AU
did not mention claimant's obesity or evaluate the impact of her obesity on her ability to work,
he "did, in effect, consider the impact of [claimant's] obesity on her ability to work' when he
considered the impact of the physical symptoms caused or aggravated by her
obesit.'); 'së also
Sanchez v. Colvin, No. EP-13-CV-0330-LS, 2016 WL 2625286, at *6 (W.D. Tex. M
(finding that although the AU did not specifically address the presence of obesity in his
decision, by "considering the symptoms of Plaintiff's other impairments, all of which may be
aggravated by her obesity, the
AU's RFC determination, in effect, considered the impact of
Plaintiff's obesity on her ability to work."). Moreover, the AU relied on Dr. Amakiri's medical
findings, who did consider Caro's obesity. (R. 21, 293). Finally, there is no objective medical
evidence in the record indicating that Caro' s obesity curbs her functioning beyond the'iiniitations
imposed by her other impairments. Thus, the Court finds that the AU's failure to directly
address Caro's obesity was harmless error.
IT IS ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.
SIGNED and ENTERED this
day of February, 2017.
MIGUEL A. ORRES
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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