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Craig v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Walter Craig (“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 Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), 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. 7. 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 December 11, 2008. (Tr. 10). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to a head injury, back problems, ankle injury, gout, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and anxiety. (Tr. 177). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of October 25, 2007. (Tr. 10). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 87-90). Plaintiff’s applications were denied again after an administrative hearing. (Tr. 7-24). Thereafter, Plaintiff appealed his case to this Court. (Tr. 725-734). This Court reversed and remanded Plaintiff’s case for further administrative review. Id. After remand, the ALJ held a second administrative hearing on August 27, 2014 in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 681-724). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel. Id. Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) Ms. Vesti testified at this hearing. Id. During this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was forty-seven (47) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). (Tr. 688-689). As for his education, Plaintiff testified he had only completed the eighth grade in school. (Tr. 689).

         On July 2, 2015, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s applications. (Tr. 654-674). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2012. (Tr. 659, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since October 25, 2007, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 659-660, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of both the lumbar and cervical spine status/post remote surgeries, degenerative joint disease in the left ankle status/post remote surgery, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder. (Tr. 660-662, 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. 662-665, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 665-672, 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 capacity to perform a wide range of light work:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). That is, the claimant can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. However, he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can only engage in all other postural functions occasionally. From a mental standpoint, the claimant can learn, understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks. In such a work setting and environment, he can also use judgment in making work-related decisions, adapt to and deal with simple changes in work setting and environment, maintain attention and concentration for 2-hour intervals, and respond appropriately to others. However, his contact with coworkers and the public must be minimal or incidental.


         Considering his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform any of his PRW. (Tr. 672, Finding 6). The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 673, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (Tr. 665-672, Finding 5). Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of representative sedentary occupations such as (1) system surveillance monitor with 2,091 such jobs in Arkansas and 25,119 such jobs in the United States; (2) callout operator with 4,496 such jobs in Arkansas and 76,274 such jobs in the United States; and (3) lamp shade assembler with 3,344 such jobs in Arkansas and 65,155 such jobs in the United States. (Tr. 673). Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from October 25, 2007 (alleged onset date) through July 2, 2015 (ALJ’s decision date). (Tr. 673, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (Tr. 641-644). Thereafter, on January 29, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review and did not assume jurisdiction of Plaintiff’s case. Id. On March 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this case. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs and have consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF Nos. 7, 11-12. 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 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), 1382c(a)(3)(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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