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Lambert v. Berryhill

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

December 20, 2017

WENDEL LAMBERT PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Wendel Lambert (“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 his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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. 9.[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 application for DIB was filed on June 28, 2012. (Tr. 275-278). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to complications with his left knee as a result of a car accident. (Tr. 341). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 10, 2010. (Tr. 275). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 150-167). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 219).

         Plaintiff's initial administrative hearing was held on June 11, 2014. (Tr. 66-95). On July 2, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 168-187). The Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's July 2014 decision and remanded the case to the ALJ, ordering to obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify whether Plaintiff's impairments met a listing prior to July 3, 2014. (Tr. 211).

         Plaintiff's second administrative hearing was held on February 23, 2016. (Tr. 96-149). Plaintiff was present and was represented by attorney, Terry Diggs, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, Medical Expert (“ME”) Dr. John Kwock, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Myrtle Johnson testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-seven (57) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 114).

         On June 17, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB.[2] (Tr. 13-33). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 16, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) from October 10, 2010 through July 2, 2014. (Tr. 16, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined that prior to July 3, 2014, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes mellitus (historically poorly controlled with established treatment compliance issues), hypertension (historically inconsistently controlled with established compliance issues), mild-to-moderate arthritic changes of the bilateral knees, with a history of left knee lateral tibial plateau shear-type fracture with slight displacement (status-post open reduction and internal fixation- December 2010), and obesity. (Tr. 16, 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. 17, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 19-32). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for a limited range of light work. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 32, Finding 6). The ALJ found that prior to July 3, 2014, Plaintiff was capable of performing his PRW. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from October 10, 2010, through July 2, 2014. (Tr. 33, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 8). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On December 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on January 26, 2017. ECF No. 9. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 14, 15. 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. §§ ...


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