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D'Amico v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas

May 11, 2018

DIANE D'AMICO PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Diane D'Amico, applied for disability benefits on October 15, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of September 9, 2014 (Tr. at 27). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ) denied her application. (Tr. at 39). 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 D'Amico has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that D'Amico had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 9, 2014. (Tr. at 29). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that D'Amico has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, peripheral neuropathy, essential hypertension, osteoarthritis, and obesity. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that D'Amico's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (Tr. at 30). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that D'Amico had the residual functional capacity (ARFC”) to perform work at the sedentary level, except that she could only frequently reach or handle. (Tr. at 31).

         At Step Four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on D'Amico's age, education, work experience and RFC, she could return to past relevant work as security officer. (Tr. at 38). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that D'Amico was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. D'Amico's Arguments on Appeal

         D'Amico contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She argues that the ALJ should have found depression to be a severe impairment and that the RFC exceeded her functional capacity. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         As for depression, the record reflects D'Amico did complain of depressive symptoms during the relevant time-period, although on her initial application, she did not allege depression prevented her from working. (Tr. at 309). See Partee v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 864 (8th Cir. 2011)(in affirming ALJ's finding of no mental impairment, the court noted that claimant did not allege mental impairment on the application for benefits). At the initial interview, she did not have problems in understanding or answering questions. (Tr. at 333). In October and November 2014, a depression screen was negative and her appearance was normal and appropriate. (Tr. at 411-413, 446). A lack of clinical findings may support an ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001).

         When D'Amico had a consultative medical examination in December 2014, she was alert and cooperative and did not appear depressed or anxious. (Tr. at 458). She was able to communicate and had good insight and cognitive function. Id. She stated she was independent in household activities of daily living. (Tr. at 457). In February 2015, ...


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