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Gonzalez v. Berryhill

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

June 26, 2017

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



         Richard Frank Gonzalez (“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 his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Titles II and XVI 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 his disability applications for DIB and SSI on March 9, 2011. (ECF No. 10, p. 635). Plaintiff also filed a subsequent application for SSI on February 12, 2015, while his March 9, 2011 applications were pending. (ECF No. 10, p. 635). The ALJ consolidated all of Plaintiff's outstanding claims into this single action. (ECF No. 10, p. 635). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to knee injuries, back injury/chronic back pain, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, hand and arm problems, shoulder problems, stroke, and a heart condition. (ECF No. 10, pp. 226, 871). Plaintiff alleges an amended onset date of March 11, 2011. (ECF No. 10, p. 660). These applications, save the SSI application filed on February 12, 2015, were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 10, pp. 83-86).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 10, pp. 105-06). After this hearing, on February 26, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 10, pp. 24-45). Plaintiff subsequently filed an appeal with this Court. Gonzalez v. Colvin, No. 6:14-cv-06070, 2014 WL 1709313 (W.D. Ark. 2015). The February 26, 2013, decision of the ALJ was reversed and remanded for failure to properly analyze Plaintiff's subjective complaints in accordance with the requirements of Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984). Id.

         Plaintiff's second administrative hearing was held on December 21, 2015, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (ECF No. 10, pp. 656-87). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Hans Pullen. Id. Plaintiff and VE Myrtle Johnson testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-six (46) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). (ECF No. 10, p. 660). As for his level of education, Plaintiff earned a GED. (ECF No. 10, p. 661).

         After this hearing, on January 22, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 10, pp. 632-48). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2011. (ECF No. 10, p. 637, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since March 11, 2011, his amended alleged onset date. (ECF No. 10, p. 637, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: residuals of a cerebral vascular accident, degenerative joint disease of the knees, schizoaffective disorder, and an anti-social personality disorder/intermittent explosive disorder. (ECF No. 10, pp. 638-39, 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. 10, pp. 639-41, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 10, pp. 641-46, 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:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). [Plaintiff] is able to lift/carry no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting/carrying of up to 10 pounds. [Plaintiff] can perform activities that require a good deal of walking or standing, up to six hours during an eight-hour workday. Mentally, he can perform unskilled work, or work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, involves few variables, requires little independent judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. [Plaintiff] cannot deal with the general public.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 10, pp. 646-47, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (ECF No. 10, pp. 682-86). 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 bander, which has a DOT code of 920.687-026, with approximately six hundred ninety-three thousand (693, 000) jobs in the national economy, and as a price tagger, which has a DOT code of 209.587-034, with approximately one million nine hundred thousand (1, 900, 000) jobs in the national economy.[3] (ECF No. 10, pp. 647-48, 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 March 11, 2011, through January 22, 2016, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 10, p. 648, Finding 11).

         On September 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 29, 2016. (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), 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. §§ 423(d)(3); ...

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