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Gahagan v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

May 20, 2016

JOAN GAHAGAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Joan Gahagan (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1.Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her disability applications on November 4, 2010. (Tr. 30). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to liver cirrhosis, diabetes, left arm surgery, asthma, and sleep apnea. (Tr. 189). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 80-83).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 40-79). This hearing was held on October 27, 2011 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Susan Brock. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) James Brackens testified at this hearing. Id.

         On May 18, 2012, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s applications. (Tr. 7-20). The ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 22, 2012, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 12, Finding 2). The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; status post ulnar nerve transposition for cubital tunnel syndrome; obesity; diabetes mellitus; essential hypertension; chronic post-traumatic stress disorder; depression secondary to a medical condition (pain); and dependent traits. Id. The ALJ also determined Plaintiff’s impairment did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 13-15, Finding 4).

         The ALJ determined in this opinion that Plaintiff was forty-five (45) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). (Tr. 19, Finding 7). As for her education level, Plaintiff had “at least a high school education” and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 19, Finding 8).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 15-19, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she frequently is able to use her left upper extremity. She must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, poor ventilation and similar environments and had no exposure to extreme heat. Nonexertionally, the claimant is able to perform work limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, involving only simple, work-related decisions, with few, if any, work place changes, no more than incidental contact with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public.

Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”), and the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform her PRW. (Tr. 19-20, Finding 6). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other occupations existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 19-20, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following light, unskilled occupations: (1) poultry production eviscerator or deboner with 596, 000 such jobs in the nation and 15, 000 such jobs in the state; and (2) production line assembler with 583, 000 such jobs in the nation and 11, 000 such jobs in the state. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ’s decision. Id.

         Thereafter, on May 29, 2012, Plaintiff requested the review of the Appeals Council. (Tr. 5). On March 7, 2013, the Appeals Council denied this request. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff then appealed her case to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. (Tr. 513-522). Upon review of Plaintiff’s case, this Court recommended Plaintiff’s case be reversed and remanded for further consideration of her subjective complaints pursuant to Polaski. Id. This recommendation was adopted, and Plaintiff’s case was reversed and remanded to the SSA. Id.

         The SSA then held a second administrative hearing in Plaintiff’s case on August 1, 2014 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. (Tr. 450-485). Plaintiff was represented by counsel, Susan Brockett. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim Spragins testified at this hearing. Id. ...


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