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Riley v. Berryhill

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

January 3, 2018

BENNY RILEY PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER

         Benny Riley (“Riley”) applied for social security disability benefits with an alleged disability onset date of December 4, 2013. (R. at 44). After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his applications. (R. at 30) The Appeals Council denied Riley's request for review (R. at 3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Riley has requested judicial review.[1]

         For the reasons stated below, this Court affirms the ALJ's decision.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Riley had the severe impairments of degenerative disk disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, antisocial personality disorder, schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain syndrome, and anxiety/depressive disorder. (R. at 20). Based on those impairments, the ALJ concluded Riley had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, except that he: could not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; could only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; could not be exposed to unprotected heights; could only occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity; could perform unskilled work with simple, routine, repetitive tasks and supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete; and must work in SVP 1 or 2 jobs that can be learned within 30 days. (R. at 22). This RFC precluded any of Riley's past relevant work. (R. at 28). The ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), who testified that a person with Riley's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform jobs such as circuit board assembler or toy stuffer. (R. at 29). Thus, the ALJ held that Riley was not disabled. (R. at 30).

         II. Discussion

         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). Riley argues that the ALJ improperly found that his herniated disks were not a severe impairment, failed to properly assess his non-exertional limitations, and erred in assessing his RFC.

         a. Herniated Disks

         Riley first argues that: (1) the ALJ improperly found that his herniated disks were not a severe impairment; and (2) his impairments meet or equal listing 1.04. Without question, the medical evidence shows that Riley has herniated disks. (R. at 454-55). The ALJ acknowledged these findings. (R. at 24). Riley does not discuss exactly what additional limitations would have been necessary to account for the herniated disks, and the ALJ found that Riley's degenerative disk disease was a severe impairment. (R. at 20). Riley does not explain how the exertional limitations related to the degenerative disk disease are insufficient to account for the herniated disks, nor can the Court discern such an insufficiency. The Court cannot agree that the herniated disks were unaccounted for.

         Additionally, Riley contends that the evidence shows that he meets Listing 1.04. In order to be found disabled under a listing, a claimant must show evidence of impairments that meet all the criteria of the listing. Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). Listing 1.04 requires a claimant to show the following:

Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the ...

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