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Barnard v. Berryhill

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

June 9, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, William Barnard, 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 claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Title 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 application for SSI on June 4, 2013. (ECF No. 9, pp. 19, 189). In his application, Plaintiff alleges disability due to lower back injury, protruding and herniated disks, and pain and numbness in his legs. (ECF No. 9, p. 193). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of March 21, 2012. (ECF No. 9, pp. 19, 189). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 9, pp. 55-76).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 9, pp. 92-95). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on May 8, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 9, pp. 32-54). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by Nick Coleman. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Tanya Owen testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-three (23) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). As for his level of education, Plaintiff has a high school diploma. (ECF No. 9, pp. 37-38).

         After this hearing, on August 28, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (ECF No. 9, pp. 15-26). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since June 4, 2013, Plaintiff's application date. (ECF No. 9, p. 21, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: Musculoskeletal Disorder (Back Disorder, degenerative disc disease) (7240) and Obesity (2780). (ECF No. 9, p. 21, Finding 2). 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. 9, pp. 21-22, Finding 3).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 9, pp. 22-25, Finding 4). 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, “the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(a).” Id. The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had no Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 9, p. 25, Finding 5). Based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined Medical-Vocational Rule 201.27 directed a finding of “not disabled.” (ECF No. 9, p. 25, Finding 9). The ALJ therefore determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from June 4, 2013, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, through August 28, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 9, p. 25, Finding 10).

         Thereafter, on October 27, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 9, p. 10). The Appeals Council denied this request on November 17, 2015. (ECF No. 9, pp. 5-9). On January 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on February 3, 2016. (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. § 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. § 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 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 his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ improperly discredited Plaintiff's subjective complaints; 2) the ALJ improperly relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines; and 3) the ALJ committed reversible error in ...

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