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Gould v. Berryhill

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

November 21, 2017



         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Kelly Gould, applied for disability benefits on May 8, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of April 24, 2014. (Tr. at 12). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ) denied her application. (Tr. at 23). 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 Gould has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Gould had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of April 24, 2014. (Tr. at 14). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Gould has the following severe impairments: chronic pain syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, depressive disorder, and obesity. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Gould's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 15). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Gould had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the following limitations: (1) she could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (2) she could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, or balance, kneel, crouch, or crawl; (3) she could have no exposure to unprotected heights or hazards in the workplace; (4) she could only frequently handle and finger; (5) she could perform unskilled work with specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) of one or two; (6) interpersonal contact must be incidental to the work performed; and (7) the required supervision must be simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. at 17). The ALJ next determined that Gould is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 21). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Gould's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. at 22). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Gould was not disabled. (Tr. at 23).

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Gould's Arguments on Appeal

         Gould argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She contends that the assigned RFC did not reflect all of her limitations and that the ALJ did not conduct a proper credibility analysis. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports both the RFC and the credibility determination.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining the claimant's [RFC], the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of [his] impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996).

         Gould suffers from chronic pain arising from lumbar degeneration, RA, and fibromyalgia. A 2014 MRI of the lumbar spine showed mild disc bulging and mild bilateral foraminal narrowing with no canal compromise. (Tr. at 420, 451). A nerve conduction study on April 21, 2014 showed no evidence of lumbar radiculopathy, neuropathy, or chronic myotomes. (Tr. at 415, 493). Objective tests showing mild to moderate conditions do not support a finding of disability. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004).

         Although on May 22, 2014, Gould tested positive for RA, she told her doctor in July 2014 that her pain was better and that she did not have any low back pain over the previous two weeks. (Tr. at 491). Dr. Kenneth Chan, D.O, found Gould to be ...

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