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Dixon v. Berryhill

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

May 15, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Stephanie Ann Dixon (“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 her applications for 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. 14.[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 DIB and SSI were filed on November 3, 2011. (Tr. 4, 474-483). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to uncontrollable blood pressure, nerve problem in right leg, and obesity. (Tr. 533). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of September 27, 2011. (Tr. 521). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 103-106, 204-212). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 213).

         Plaintiff's initial administrative hearing was held on January 17, 2013. (Tr. 296-335). Following this hearing, on April 30, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 110-129). On July 1, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 130-133). Following this, Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's April 30, 2013 decision to this Court. ECF No. 1.

         While this matter was pending before this Court, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for SSI, alleging disability due to uncontrollable hypertension, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 25, 591). That application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 25, 414-417, 424-426).

         On March 25, 2015, this Court remanded this case for further administrative action pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) because a significant portion of the recording of the January 17, 2013 hearing was inaudible, and, therefore, a complete transcript of the hearing could not be prepared. (Tr. 135-143). On April 24, 2015, the Appeals Council remanded the case for any further action needed to complete the record. (Tr. 147). The Appeals Council also directed the ALJ to consolidate the DIB and SSI claims filed on November 3, 2011 with the subsequent SSI claim filed in July 21, 2014, to create a single electronic record, and to issue a new decision on the consolidated claims. Id.

         Plaintiff's second administrative hearing was held on July 16, 2015. (Tr. 65-102). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Howard Goode, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, her daughter, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Juanita Grant, testified at the hearing. Id.

         On January 14, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision on Plaintiff's November 3, 2011 applications for DIB and SSI finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 46-57). On January 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a separate, but substantively identical decision, on Plaintiff's July 1, 2014 application for SSI finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 3-4, 25-36).

         The Appeals Council assumed jurisdiction on October 19, 2016 pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984(b)(3), 416.1484(b)(3) and issued a decision on February 14, 2017. (Tr. 3-6). The Appeals Council indicated the ALJ had not consolidated the claims as ordered and vacated both of the ALJ's decisions from January 2016. (Tr. 3-4). However, the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings in those decisions, as well as any pertinent legal provisions and applicable evidentiary facts. Id. The Appeals Council consolidated Plaintiff's November 3, 2011 and July 21, 2014 DIB and SSI claims, and found Plaintiff had not been disabled under the Act from September 17, 2011, through the ALJ's January 28, 2016 decision. (Tr. 3-6).

         In the February 14, 2017 decision, the Appeals Council determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 17, 2011. (Tr. 5, Finding 1). The Appeals Council also determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments hypertension, obesity, bipolar disorder II, and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 5, Finding 2). They 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. 5, Finding 3)

         In this decision, the Appeals Council determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work except could only occasionally climb stairs and ramps; never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and could occasionally respond appropriately to supervisors, coworkers, and the public. (Tr. 5, Finding 4). The Appeals Council then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 5, Finding 6). They found Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a production worker. Id. The Appeals Council, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 5, Finding 8). Based upon this finding, it was determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from any time through January 28, 2016. (Tr. 5, Finding 9).

         On September 15, 2017, this Court reopened this case for review of the Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 16. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 23, 24. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Ap ...

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