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Smith v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

May 24, 2018

ELECIA SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Elecia Smith, (“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 application 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. 5. 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 application for DIB on May 30, 2014 and SSI on June 16, 2014. (Tr. 11). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to arthritis; degenerative disc disease; herniated discs at ¶ 2-T2 posterior laminectomy and fusion; hypertension; depression; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); shortness of breath; wheezing; lymphedema; and right hand weakness and balance. (Tr. 293). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 186). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on March 11, 2016. (Tr. 70-98). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Shannon Muse Carroll. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth Clem testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-three (53) years old and had a high school education. Id.

         On May 31, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 11-24). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 9, 2014. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, obesity, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, gout, history of nerve pressure with fusion symptoms at the cervical spine, and depression. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ 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. 14, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 16, 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 a light work except could stand or walk for four hours and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; could perform work involving occasional work overhead bilaterally; occasional stopping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; could not perform work around hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery; and could perform work involving simple, routine, tasks and have incidental contact with the public and coworkers. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 22, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing any PRW Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 23, 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 cashier with approximately 300, 000 such jobs in the nation and inspector with approximately 130, 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 from April 9, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 24, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 269-271). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On July 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 14, 15. This case is now ready for decision.

         2.Applicable Law:

         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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. ...


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