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Horton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

February 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration[1]DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Jacquelyn Horton, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on April 10, 2012. (ECF No. 14, pp. 16, 149). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety. (ECF No. 14, p. 153). Plaintiff initially alleged an onset date of March 17, 1999, which Plaintiff subsequently amended at the administrative hearing to April 8, 2009. (ECF No. 14, pp. 16, 39, 149). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 14, pp. 57-63, 67-71). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 14, p. 76). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on September 23, 2013, in Jonesboro, Arkansas. (ECF No. 14. pp. 16, 34-49). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Nicholas Coleman. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth Clem testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-seven (27) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). (ECF No. 14, p. 37). As for her level of education, Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade. (ECF No. 14, p. 37).

         After this hearing, on January 14, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 14, pp. 13-27). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2009. (ECF No. 14, p. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since March 17, 1999, her pre-amendment alleged onset date. (ECF No. 14, p. 18, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, substance induced psychotic disorder, and recurrent ovarian cysts. (ECF No. 14, pp. 18-19, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404 (“Listings”). (ECF No. 14, pp. 19-20, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 14, pp. 20-25, 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 RFC to perform:

a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: this individual can perform where interpersonal contact is limited. Limited is defined as interpersonal contact that requires little interaction, such as answering simple questions, responding appropriately to co-workers and supervisors, interaction with the public is infrequent and considered to be an essential job duty;[2] complexity of tasks is learned by demonstration and repetition within 30 days, with few variables, little judgment and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had no Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 14, p. 25, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (ECF No. 14, pp. 47-49). Based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform, such as a commercial laundry worker and as a housekeeper. (ECF No. 14, p. 26, Finding 10). Because jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy, which Plaintiff can perform, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from March 17, 1999, her pre-amendment alleged onset date, through January 14, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 14, p. 26, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on March 14, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 14, pp. 11-12). The Appeals Council denied this request on April 15, 2015. (ECF No. 14, pp. 5-10). On June 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on June 30, 2015. (ECF No. 6). This case is now ready for decision.

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). In other words, if after reviewing the record it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); See also 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

         The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Only if she reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her residual functional ...

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