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James v. Berryhill

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

February 8, 2018

WALTER JAMES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         On June 24, 2010, Walter James applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2001. (Tr. at 110-113, 125) Mr. James's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After conducting a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (AALJ @) denied his application. (Tr. at 25) The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1)

         Thereafter, Mr. James filed a complaint in this Court. The Court reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded for further development of Vocational Expert (“VE”) testimony. (Tr. at 454-463); James v. Colvin, No. 3:14-CV-26 JTK (E.D. Ark. Nov. 26, 2014). The Court found that the ALJ had not resolved a discrepancy between the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). (Tr. at 461) The conflict arose from VE testimony that Mr. James could perform jobs with a level-three reasoning when the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) limited him to simple work. The Court pointed to Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 931 (8th Cir. 2005), which held that jobs with a reasoning level of three were arguably inconsistent with an RFC for simple, concrete work. (Tr. at 461)

         A second hearing was held on August 18, 2015. (Tr. at 347). The ALJ denied Mr. James's application. (Tr. at 358) The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 314) Thus, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. James has requested judicial review. For the reasons stated below, the Court[1]reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.

         II. The Commissioner=s Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. James had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of June 24, 2010. (Tr. at 349) The ALJ found, at Step Two of the five-step analysis, that Mr. James has the following severe impairments: asthma, status-post open reduction internal fixation of right and left hip fracture, arthritis, hypertension, obesity, depression, and mild-to-borderline mental retardation. Id.

         After finding that Mr. James's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 349), the ALJ determined that Mr. James had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with additional limitations. (Tr. at 351) He could only occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb ramps and stairs; he would require a can for walking and balance; he would need to avoid concentrated exposure to dust, odors, gases, fumes, and extreme hot temperatures; he would be limited to simple, routine work with simple instructions with SVP of 1 or 2; and he would need a sit-stand option every 30 minutes for position change. (Tr. at 351-352)

         The ALJ found that Mr. James had no past relevant work. (Tr. at 49) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a VE to find, based on Mr. James's age, education, work experience and RFC, that he was capable of performing work in the national economy as a surveillance system monitor and an order clerk. (Tr. at 358) Based on the determination, the ALJ held that Mr. James 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 “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009) (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, Amerely 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. Mr. James's Arguments on Appeal

         Mr. James argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. His sole argument is that the jobs identified by the VE involve level-three reasoning, as defined by the DOT, thereby exceeding the ALJ's RFC finding that James could only perform simple, routine work with simple instructions. Thus, James argues, there was a conflict between the VE testimony and the DOT, which the ALJ failed to resolve.

         The ALJ's limitation of Mr. James to simple, routine work arose from evidence that he was operating within the “moderate” retardation range (Tr. at 221) and that he would have difficulty sustaining concentration and persistence on basic work tasks. (Tr. at 212-213) Consultative examiner Mary Ellen Ziolko, Ph.D., found that Mr. James would be unable to complete work-like tasks within an acceptable timeframe. Id. Dr. Ziolko also noted, however, that Mr. James's ...


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