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Morris v. Berryhill

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

February 14, 2017

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



         Shirley B. Morris (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“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. 7).[2] 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 application for DIB on March 27, 2012. (ECF No. 12, pp. 21, 532). In her application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to asthma and depression. (ECF No. 12, p. 536). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of November 4, 2011. (ECF No. 12, pp. 21, 532). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 12, pp. 77-79, 84-85).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 12, pp.86-89). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on June 26, 2013, in Harrison, Arkansas. (ECF No. 12, pp. 38-67). Plaintiff was present at this hearing and was represented by Don Bishop. (ECF No. 12, p. 38). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Sarah Moore testified at this hearing. (ECF No. 12, pp. 38-67). At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-three (53) years old, which is defined as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d). (ECF No. 12, p. 532). As for her level of education, Plaintiff has a high school diploma. (ECF No. 12, p. 537).

         After this hearing, on November 26, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (ECF No. 12, pp. 18-31). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. (ECF No. 12, p. 23, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since November 4, 2011, her alleged onset date. (ECF No. 12, p. 23, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: asthma, seasonal allergies, and disorder of the lumbar spine (ECF No. 12, p. 23, 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. 12, p. 25, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 12, pp. 25-29, 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: “light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567)(b) except [Plaintiff] must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gasses, poor ventilation, and similar environments; and [Plaintiff] must avoid dangerous machinery.” Id. at 25.

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff could not return to her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 12, p, 30, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (ECF No. 12, pp. 62-65). 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 cashier, which has a DOT code of 211.462-010, with approximately eight hundred nine thousand eight hundred (809, 800) jobs in the national economy, and approximately seven thousand (7, 000) jobs in the regional economy, and as a housekeeper, which has a DOT code of 323.687-014, with approximately one hundred thirty-four thousand eight hundred (134, 800) jobs in the national economy, and approximately one thousand one hundred (1, 100) jobs in the regional economy. (ECF No. 12, pp. 30-31, 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 November 4, 2011, through November 26, 2013, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 15, p. 509, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on December 24, 2013, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council. (ECF No. 12, p. 16). The Appeals Council denied this request on January 22, 2015. (ECF No. 12, pp. 12-15). The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff an extension of time to file a civil action on June 29, 2015. (ECF No. 12, p. 5). On September 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 24, 2015. (ECF No. 7). 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 to support 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 draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. see Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. see Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Act defines a “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. §§ ...

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