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Mills v. Berryhill

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

August 16, 2017

DANA MILLS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Dana Mills, 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 her 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 her current applications for DIB and SSI on July 30, 2013, and January 3, 2014, respectively, alleging an inability to work since July 1, 2011, [2] due to headaches, stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, shortness of breath, pain, hepatic mass, pulmonary adenopathy, pituitary and rathke cyst. (Doc. 9, pp. 67-68, 80-81, 95, 113). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through December 31, 2016. (Doc. 9, pp. 67, 113). An administrative hearing was held on December 19, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 9, pp. 34-64).

         By written decision dated July 31, 2015, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic migraines, hepatic mass, chronic pain, shortness of breath, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. (Doc. 9, p. 19). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Doc. 9, p. 20). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she is limited to frequent handling and fingering bilaterally, and limited to jobs that can be performed while using a hand-held assistive device for prolonged ambulation. (Doc. 9, pp. 20-24). With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that while Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, she could perform work as a radio dispatcher, a statistical clerk, and a credit card clerk. (Doc. 9, p. 25).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on June 29, 2016. (Doc. 9, pp. 6-13). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 11).[3]

         The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). 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. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her 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, 416.920.

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff makes the following arguments on appeal: 1) the ALJ erred in failing to consider the combined effect of Plaintiff's impairments; 2) the ALJ's RFC determination failed to include the limitations imposed by her alleged impairments of migraine headaches, urinary issues, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue; 3) the ALJ's RFC determination of frequent handling and fingering was not supported by substantial evidence and 4) the ALJ's RFC determination failed to include any mental limitations. (Doc. 11).

         A. Combination ...


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