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Hughes v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2017

THOMAS O. HUGHES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration[1]DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Thomas Hughes, 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 his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on November 7, 2012. (ECF No. 14, p. 14). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), colostomy problems, heart problems, and high blood pressure. (ECF No. 14, p. 200). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of January 1, 2010. (ECF No. 14, pp. 14, 195). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 14, pp. 14, 48-97).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 14, p. 113). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 12, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 14, pp. 26-46). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Matthew Ketcham. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Deborah Steele testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old, which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(e), 416.963(e). (ECF No. 14, p. 26, 195). As for his level of education, Plaintiff has earned a GED. (ECF No. 14, p. 201).

         After this hearing, on April 17, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 14, pp. 11-21). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2010. (ECF No. 14, p. 16, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2010, his alleged onset date. (ECF No. 14, p. 16, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) and status post repair of abdominal wound with colostomy placement. (ECF No. 14, pp. 17, 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, p. 17, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 14, pp. 17-19, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform “medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation and similar environments.” Id.

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had no Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 14, p. 19, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding these issues. (ECF No. 14, pp. 42-44). 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 door greeter, store laborer, and a bundle clerk. (ECF No. 14, pp. 19-20, 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 January 1, 2010, through April 17, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 14, p. 20, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on May 7, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 14, p. 9). The Appeals Council denied this request on August 25, 2015. (ECF No. 14, pp. 5-8). On October 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 2, 2015. (ECF No. 5). 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 his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him 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 his disability, not simply his 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 his 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 his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 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 his residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         III. ...


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