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Hopson v. Berryhill

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

May 7, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Alfred C. Hopson (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title 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. 9.[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's application for SSI was filed on April 8, 2014. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to due to gout, heart issues, a brain aneurysm, and schizophrenia. (Tr. 234). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 1, 2012. (Tr. 10). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 119-162, 165-167). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 168).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on April 20, 2016. (Tr. 39-77). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Michael Angel, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Diana Kizer testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old and a tenth grade education. (Tr. 44).

         On May 31, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 10-33). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 8, 2014. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of gout; essential hypertension; thoracic and lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; mild osteoarth1itis of the left elbow; mild right hand osteoarthritis; and affective, personality, and substance addiction disorders. (Tr. 12, Finding 2). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 14, Finding 3).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 17-32). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the following RFC:

to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently; to stand and walk about six hours total during an ight hour work day; and to sit for about six hours total during an eight hour work day. He can only occasionally grasp with his right dominant hand. He can only occasionally reach, including overhead, with his left arm. He must be allowed to alternately sit and stand every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the work day for the purposes of changing positions, but without leaving the workstation. He is also limited to unskilled work (where the tasks are no more complex than those learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment) where supervision must be simple, direct, concrete, and non-critical; and interpersonal contact with supervisors and coworkers is incidental to the work performed, e.g., assembly work, but he must not be required to work at fast-paced production lines speeds. He can work at a consistent pace if he has normal, regular work breaks. He should have only occasional workplace changes. He should not be required to travel to unfamiliar places or to use public transportation as part of his work duties. In other words, he can perform less than the full range of “light” work.

(Tr. 17, Finding 4).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 32, Finding 5). The ALJ found Plaintiff was not capable of performing his PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 32-33, Finding 9). 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 conveyor line bakery worker with approximately 35, 000 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 since April 8, 2014. (Tr. 33, Finding 10).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 212-214). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On June 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF No. 9. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 21, 22. 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) (2006); 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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