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Singleton v. Berryhill

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

January 24, 2018

NATARSHA SINGLETON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Natarsha Singleton, initially applied for disability benefits sometime prior to November 19, 2008, the date of her first hearing. (Tr. at 34). That application was denied at the hearing level and Singleton's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council. (Tr. at 16).

         She filed a subsequent application for Title XIV supplemental security income benefits on September 6, 2011, alleging an onset date of November 15, 2006 (Tr. at 192-198).[1] After conducting a hearing, Judge Jerry M. Lang, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), denied her application on June 18, 2013. (Tr. at 95-104). He found no mental impairment. (Tr. at 97). The Appeals Council subsequently remanded the case for further consideration and development of the record regarding Singleton's mental impairments. (Tr. at 110-113).

         A second administrative hearing was held by Judge Lang on July 9, 2014 (Tr. at 73). On September 3, 2014, Judge Lang issued a decision denying Singleton's claim, finding again that she had no mental impairment. (Tr. at 14). On November 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Singleton's request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Singleton has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[2] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Singleton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of September 6, 2011. (Tr. at 14). At Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Singleton has the following severe impairments: history of spinal tuberculosis with T12-L1 corpectomy and fusion at ¶ 11-L3. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Singleton's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Singleton had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the light level. (Tr. at 15). The ALJ next determined that Singleton was capable of performing past relevant work as a customer service advisor. (Tr. at 23). Singleton's past work was long enough in the past to raise a question of whether it qualified as past relevant work, so the ALJ further questioned the Vocational Expert (“VE”). The ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to find that, based on Singleton's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. Id. Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Singleton was not disabled. Id.

         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. Singleton's Arguments on Appeal

         Singleton contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She argues that the ALJ erred by not finding her mental impairments to be severe. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         Prior to the relevant time-period beginning on September 6, 2011, Singleton submitted to inpatient psychiatric treatment three times. On August 19, 2010, she began a five-night stay at Mid-South Crisis Unit, for schizoaffective disorder. (Tr. at 657-660). She had thoughts of suicide and was having paranoid, delusional thoughts, (Tr. at ...


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