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Drafton v. Berryhill

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

February 21, 2017

RANDAL DRAFTON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Randal Drafton (“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 his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and a period of disability 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 his disability applications on September 11, 2012. (Tr. 16, 207, 214). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to back problems, eye problems, cognition problems, sleep problems, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, and depression. (Tr. 260). During the administrative hearing in this matter, Plaintiff also detailed his head injuries, one from an assault and several from car accidents. (Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of November 1, 2008. (Tr. 16). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 77-112).

         After Plaintiff's applications were denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 37-76). Thereafter, on June 9, 2014, the ALJ held an administrative hearing in Hot Springs, Arkansas on Plaintiff's applications. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Ian Reed. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) James Wallace testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was fifty (50) years old, which is defined as a person “closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(d) (2008) (SSI) and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (2008) (DIB). (Tr. 40). As for his education, Plaintiff testified he completed the eleventh grade in school and truck driving school. (Tr. 41).

         On June 9, 2014, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 13-31). The ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2013. (Tr. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since November 1, 2008, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 19, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arthralgias, bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse. (Tr. 19-21, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff's impairments 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. 21-23, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then evaluated whether Plaintiff was disabled, both considering his substance abuse disorder and assuming he discontinued his substance abuse. (Tr. 23-30). Assuming he still continued to consume alcohol at his current rate, the ALJ determined he was disabled. (Tr. 24-25, Finding 10). However, assuming he discontinued his alcohol consumption, the ALJ determined Plaintiff would retain the following limitations:

If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would have the residual functional capacity to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; stand and walk a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; frequently stoop, bend, crouch, kneel, and balance; restricted from use of ropes, ladders and scaffolding; can perform work which is simple, routine, and repetitive with supervision that is simple, direct and concrete.

Id. The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 29-30, Finding 14). Considering his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of his PRW, even if he stopped his substance abuse. Id.

         The ALJ also considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, assuming he stopped his substance abuse. (Tr. 30, Finding 16). 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 three occupations: (1) housekeeper at a hotel (light, unskilled) with approximately 1, 860 such jobs in Arkansas and 221, 600 such jobs in the United States; (2) cashier 2 (light, unskilled) with approximately 14, 870 such jobs in Arkansas and 1, 677, 000 such jobs in the United States; and (3) fast food worker (light, unskilled) with 16, 300 such jobs in Arkansas and 2, 147, 000 such jobs in the United States. (Tr. 30, Finding 16). Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this work if he stopped his substance abuse, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from his alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision or through June 9, 2014. (Tr. 30, Finding 17).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the review of the Appeals Council. On October 26, 2015, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 6-8). On March 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on March 17, 2016. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 13. 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) (2010); 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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