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Conner v. Berryhill

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

November 22, 2017

ELIZABETH A. CONNER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Elizabeth A. Conner, applied for disability benefits on March 6, 2013, alleging her disability began on October 1, 2012. (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 24). 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 Conner 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 Conner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of October 1, 2012. (Tr. at 14). At Step Two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Conner has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with lumbosacral radiculopathy, status post spinal fracture, major depressive disorder, and alcohol dependence in early full remission. Id.

         After finding that Conner's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 15), the ALJ determined that Conner had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of sedentary work, except that: (1) she could only occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and crouch; (2) she could frequently finger and handle bilaterally; and (3) she is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed and supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. at 17). Next, the ALJ found that Conner was not capable of performing her past relevant work. (Tr. at 22). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Conner's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform at the sedentary level with the added limitations, specifically, small product assembler, document preparer, and escort vehicle driver. (Tr. at 24). Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ held that Conner 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. Conner's Arguments on Appeal

         Conner argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She contends that the ALJ erred in his RFC ...


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