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Farmer v. Berryhill

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

November 20, 2017

CYNTHIA FARMER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Cynthia Farmer (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) 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.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI were filed on February 7, 2014. (Tr. 8, 199-213). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to due to anxiety; bipolar depression; chronic diarrhea; difficulty sleeping; history of substance abuse; low back and hip degenerative joint disease; major depressive mood disorder; destructive fits of anger and cursing; an inability to communicate with others; an inability to leave the house or be in public; and a fear of bathtubs, showers, and other water sources. (Tr. 247). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of April 16, 2013. (Tr. 8). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 148).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on April 20, 2015. (Tr. 36-62). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Sherri McDonough, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Charles Turner testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-two (42) years old and was a high school graduate, with some college. (Tr. 38-39).

         On August 14, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 8-22). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2018. (Tr. 10, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 16, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 10, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of back pain, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 11, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 11, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 13-20). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for sedentary work, except can only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, bend, crouch, kneel, or crawl; and restricted to work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed; complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment; and supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 20, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 21, finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as assembly work with 160, 000 such jobs in the nation and inspecting work with 200, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from April 16, 2013, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 21, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 28). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On October 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 25, 2016. ECF No. 7. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 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) (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 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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

         3. Discussion:

         Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred: (A) by failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing, (B) in his credibility determination, and (C) in assessing Plaintiff's RFC. ECF No. 11, Pgs. 7-20. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 12.

         A. Listings

         The ALJ must determine whether Plaintiff has a severe impairment that significantly limits the physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities. A medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments is severe if it significantly limits an individual's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521 and 416.921.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff did suffer from impairments considered to be severe within the meaning of the Social Security regulations. These impairments included back pain, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 11, Finding 3). However, there was no substantial evidence in the record showing Plaintiff's condition was severe enough to meet or equal that of a listed impairment as set forth in the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app.1. Plaintiff has the burden of establishing that her impairment(s) meet or ...


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