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Cross v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

February 8, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Charles Lee Cross, on behalf of, Donna Cross, deceased, (“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 her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI 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. 7.[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 applications for DIB and SSI were filed on March 28, 2011. (Tr. 352-366). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to severe knee and ankle problems, osteoarthritis, stroke, and congestive heart failure. (Tr. 427). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2005. (Tr. 352). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 192).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on July 15, 2015. (Tr. 76-112). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Mary May testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old and had an eleventh grade education. (Tr. 81-82).

         On October 27, 2015, the ALJ entered a partially favorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB, but granting Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 21-34). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2007. (Tr. 24, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2005. (Tr. 24, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine, and morbid obesity. (Tr. 24, 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. 26, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 27-31). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for sedentary work, except can only occasionally climb stairs and ramps, but not climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures, dusts, fumes, gases, odors, and other pulmonary irritants. (Tr. 27).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 31, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ also found that on June 21, 2009, Plaintiff's age category changed to an individual closely approaching advanced age. (Tr. 31, Finding 7). The ALJ, however, also determined that prior June 21, 2009, there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 32, Finding 10). However, on June 21, 2009, because Plaintiff's age category changed, there were no jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 33, Finding 11). Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff became disabled on June 21, 2009. (Tr. 33, Finding 12). The ALJ also found Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time through September 30, 2007, the date last insured. (Tr. 33, Finding 13).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 14). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this decision. (Tr. 1-5). On November 4, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 7, 2016. ECF No. 7. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 16. 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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. ...

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