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Couture v. Berryhill

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

April 11, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Paul Roy Couture (“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 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. 11.[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 October 4, 2013. (Tr. 21). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to seizures. (Tr. 259). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of March 1, 2011. Id. These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 21).

         On November 2, 2015, Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on his applications. (Tr. 38-92). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Russell J. Byrne. Id. Plaintiff, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Thomas Mungall III, testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was fifty (50) years old and had a seventh grade education. (Tr. 45, 48).

         On April 1, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 21-32). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2015. (Tr. 23, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since March 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 23, Finding 2).

         The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, seizure disorder and affective disorder. (Tr. 23, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined those 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. 24, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 25-30). First, the ALJ indicated she evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for medium work, except is limited to frequent climbing of ramps and stairs; never climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; never balancing; and frequent stooping kneeling, crouching or crawling; precluded from exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts or operating a motor vehicle; limited to routine and repetitive tasks, not performed at production rate pace; simple work-related decisions; only occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers and the public; and few changes in a routine work setting. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 30, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 30, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as kitchen helper with 544, 148 such jobs in the nation, housekeeping with 229, 918 such jobs in the nation, and day worker with 856, 481 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from March 1, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 31, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 16-17). The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 2-4). On May 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 16, 17. 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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