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Phifer v. Berryhill

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

February 26, 2018

TISHA L. PHIFER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         The following Recommended Disposition (“Recommendation”) has been sent to Chief United States District Judge Brian Miller. You may file written objections to all or part of this Recommendation. If you do so, those objections must: (1) specifically explain the factual and/or legal basis for your objections; and (2) be received by the Clerk of this Court within fourteen (14) days of this Recommendation. By not objecting, you may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Tisha L. Phifer, applied for disability benefits on November 25, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of July 31, 2013. (Tr. at 17). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 26). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Phifer has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court should affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Phifer had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of July 31, 2013. (Tr. at 19). At Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Phifer has the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease. Id.

         The ALJ found that Ms. Phifer's impairment did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 20). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Phifer had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at the sedentary level, except she would have to avoid constant, repetitive bending. Id.

         The ALJ next found that Ms. Phifer was able to perform past relevant work as a warehouse worker, waitress, and telemarketer. (Tr. at 25). The ALJ made an alternative finding at Step Five. He relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, considering Ms. Phifer's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. at 25-26). Therefore, the ALJ found that Ms. Phifer was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review 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).

         It is not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision of the ALJ because there is evidence in the record which contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports the decision of the ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d at 477. The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the briefs, the ALJ's decision, and the transcript of the hearing.

         B. Ms. Phifer's Arguments on Appeal

         Ms. Phifer contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She argues that: 1) the ALJ erred by not conducting the Psychiatric Review Technique (“PRT”); and 2) he did not give proper weight to the opinion of treating physician, Dr. Mike Umerah, M.D. After ...


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