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Staggs v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

November 13, 2017

CONNIE MARIE STAGGS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Connie Marie Staggs, applied for disability income benefits on January 31, 2014, alleging her disability began on February 10, 2013. (Tr. at 12). Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 21). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Staggs has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[2] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Staggs last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2014, so she would have to prove disability before that date. (Tr. at 14). He also found that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of February 10, 2013. Id. At Step Two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Staggs has the following severe impairments: history of cerebral hematoma status post suboccipital craniectomy; neurocognitive disorder; and adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Id.

         After finding that Staggs's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 14), the ALJ determined that Staggs had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work, except that: (1) she could only occasionally stoop, crouch, bend, kneel, crawl, and balance; (2) she could not work from ropes, ladders, scaffolding, or unprotected heights; and (3) she would be limited to work which is simple, routine, and repetitive with supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. at 16). Next, the ALJ found that Staggs was not capable of performing her past relevant work. (Tr. at 19-20). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Staggs's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform at the light level, with the added limitations. Those jobs included housekeeping cleaner and fountain server. (Tr. at 20). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Staggs was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:

“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; we also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.”

Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         It is not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision of the ALJ because there is evidence in the record which contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports the decision of the ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d. at 477.

         B. Staggs's Arguments on Appeal

         Staggs argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She contends that the ALJ erred by not finding hypertension to be a severe impairment, and that the Appeals Council should have remanded ...


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