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Flynn v. Berryhill

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

February 19, 2018

STEVEN A. FLYNN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Steven A. Flynn (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his applications for a period of disability, 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. 5.[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 protectively filed his disability applications on May 26, 2010. (Tr. 133-136). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to bulging discs in his back, a right shoulder injury that “never healed, ” high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, a sternum fracture, cervical spasms, fibromyalgia, pneumonia, lumbar dysfunction, degenerative changes in his back, central disc bulge at ¶ 3 to L4, right shoulder problems, and restless leg syndrome. (Tr. 162). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of April 30, 2009. (Tr. 133-135). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 70-73). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 91).

         Plaintiff's initial administrative hearing was held on August 23, 2011. (Tr. 27-69). Following this, on October 28, 2011, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 10-21). The Appeals Council denied review and Plaintiff appealed this decision. On January 16, 2014, this Court remanded the case due to the ALJ improperly finding at step two of the sequential evaluation that Plaintiff's depression was a nonsevere impairment. (Tr. 542-549).

         Following remand, Plaintiff had administrative hearings on December 2, 2014 and May 25, 2016. (Tr. 412-453, 454-483). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Frederick Spencer at these hearings. Id. Plaintiff's date of birth was September 16, 1966, and he had obtained his GED. (Tr. 163, 422).

         On August 9, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 367-380). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 369, Finding 1). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 30, 2009, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 370, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, disorder of the right shoulder, and major depressive disorder (Tr. 370, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 370, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 372-379, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work except can only occasionally climb, push and pull, and reach overhead with his dominant right upper extremity; frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, handle, finger, feel, reach in all other directions bilaterally, and operate foot controls; limited to work involving only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes; and no more than incidental contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. (Tr. 372-379).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and found Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his PRW. (Tr. 379, Finding 6). The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform occupations such as inspector tester content with 14, 108 such jobs in the national economy and 202 such jobs in the region; office helper with 41, 166 such jobs in the national economy and 242 such jobs in the region, and bottle line attendant with 22, 001 such jobs in the national economy and 156 such jobs in the region. (Tr. 380). Based upon this testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from April 30, 2009 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 380, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on October 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 1, 2016. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. 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) (2010); 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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