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Clark v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

March 27, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT



         Stephanie Lezette Clark (“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 her claim for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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 protectively filed her disability application on April 29, 2014. (Tr. 11, 135-142). Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to bulging disc in her back, arthritis, diabetes, glaucoma, depression, anxiety, asthma, open heart surgery, high blood pressure, and fluid retention. (Tr. 157, 187). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of April 4, 2014. (Tr. 11, 136). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 58, 70, 84-86, 90-91).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application. (Tr. 92-93). The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) granted that request and held an administrative video hearing on October 8, 2015. (Tr. 35-57). The ALJ presided over the hearing from Alexandria, Louisiana, and the Plaintiff appeared and testified in El Dorado, Arkansas. Id. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by David C. Graham. Id. Vocational Expert (“VE”) Charles E. Smith also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she obtained a high school diploma, completed about two years of college, but did not receive a degree, and was a certified nursing assistant (“CNA”). (Tr. 40-41).

         After this hearing, on November 25, 2015, the ALJ entered a decision. (Tr. 11-20). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since the alleged onset date. (Tr. 13, Finding 2). The ALJ determined since the alleged onset date of disability, April 4, 2014, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, essential hypertension, spine disorder, and obesity. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). Since the alleged onset date of disability, April 4, 2014, the ALJ determined these 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. 14, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 14-17, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that since April 4, 2014, the claimant has the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except she is limited to lifting/carrying 10 pounds, occasionally, less than 10 pounds, frequently, sitting 6 hours in an 8-hour day, and standing/walking 2 hours in an 8-hour day. In addition, she is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling.


         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and found since April 4, 2014, Plaintiff has been unable to perform any PRW. (Tr. 18, Finding 6). Prior to the established disability onset date, the Plaintiff was a younger individual age 45-49. (Tr. 18, Finding 7). Applying the age categories non-mechanically, and considering the additional adversities in this case, on October 8, 2015, the Plaintiff's age category changed to an individual closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563). Id.

         Prior to October 8, 2015, transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the Plaintiff is “not disabled” whether or not the Plaintiff has transferable job skills. (Tr. 18, Finding 9). Beginning on October 8, 2015, the Plaintiff has not been able to transfer job skills to other occupations (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2). Id.

         Prior to October 8, 2015, the date the Plaintiff's age category changed, considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff could have performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and 404.1569a). (Tr. 18-19, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following: (1) cutter and paster (sedentary, unskilled, SVP 2) with 194, 977 such jobs in the United States and 1, 991 such jobs in Arkansas; and (2) final assembler (sedentary, unskilled, SVP 2) with 59, 503 such jobs in the United States and 1, 263 such jobs in Arkansas. Id.

         Plaintiff's date of birth is February 5, 1966. (Tr. 136). At the hearing held on October 8, 2015, Plaintiff was 49 years and 8 months old, which under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines is classified as a younger person. (Tr. 35-57). In a borderline situation, the age categories will not be applied mechanically “if [Plaintiff] is within a few days to a few months of reaching an older age category, and using the older age category would result in a determination or decision [Plaintiff] is disabled, we will consider whether to use the older age category after evaluating the overall impact of all factors in the case.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(b). In his decision, the ALJ ultimately determined Plaintiff's age category was a borderline situation and should not be applied mechanically. (Tr. 18). The ALJ reasoned that the length of time between the established onset date and reaching the next age category is a period of ...

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