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Nelson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

January 30, 2017

CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Robert Nelson ("Plaintiff) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") 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. 8.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiffs applications for DIB and SSI were filed on January 11, 2013. (Tr. 11, 194-201). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to brain injury, broken neck, back injury, and mood swings. (Tr. 240). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of May 17, 2011. (Tr. 194, 196). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 152-153).

         Plaintiffs administrative hearing was held on August 12, 2014. (Tr. 29-77). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Shannon Muse Carroll, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, his brother Raymond Barrett, and Vocational Expert ("VE") Myrtle Johnson, testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-two (32) years old and had a seventh grade education. (Tr. 33, 35).

         On December 5, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiffs applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 11-24). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2014. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since January 1, 2013. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, drug and alcohol abuse, poor decision-making abilities, organic mental disorder, bipolar disorder, and history of head trauma. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiffs impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 13-14, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff s subj ective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 14-22). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiffs subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work with additional physical and mental limitations. (Tr. 15, Finding 5).

         Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

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 due to mild to moderate pain the claimant would have no postural restrictions. He could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. Further, the claimant would have no limitations to sitting, standing or walking. He could perform these functions six hours in an eight-hour workday and one to two hours without interruption. Because the claimant mumbles, he could not have a job requiring communication skills over the phone, such as a telemarketer. Mentally, the claimant would be limited to unskilled, rote activity. He could understand, remember and carry out concrete instructions, as long as they were unskilled and rote. Contact with supervisors and co-workers would be superficial, could meet, greet, make change and give simple directions and instructions. Regarding dealing with the public the claimant could not work as a cashier, handling money, counting change or being a service type of employee in terms of sitting somewhere, answering or responding the questions. Simply, the claimant's job would be getting to work and do the work. He could work alongside co-workers with very little interaction with the public in terms of speaking.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiffs Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 22, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform his PRW as a packer and machine handler. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 22, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiffs vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a housekeeper with 7, 000 such jobs in the region and 800, 000 such jobs in the nation and small products assembly with 4, 500 such jobs in the region and 229, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from May 17, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 23, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On January 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on February 17, 2016. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 14, 16. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart,292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel,240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See Haley v. Massanari,258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible to ...

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