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Hamilton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

June 6, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Douglas Hamilton (“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 application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2009), the Honorable P. K. Holmes, III referred this case to this Court for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. In accordance with that referral, and after reviewing the arguments in this case, this Court recommends Plaintiff's case be AFFIRMED.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed his disability application on May 1, 2015. (Tr. 10). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to back pain. (Tr. 151). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of November 10, 2013. (Tr. 10). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 54-65). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 22-53). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 7, 2016 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Id.

         At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Susan Brockett. (Tr. 22-53). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Monty Lumpkin testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was forty-eight (48) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008). (Tr. 25). As for his education, Plaintiff testified he had graduated from high school. Id.

         On July 20, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's DIB application. (Tr. 7-17). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since November 10, 2013, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 12, Finding 2). The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: pain and reduced range of motion of the lumbar spine related to early degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 12, 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. 12-13, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 13-6, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b).

Id. The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and found Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his PRW. (Tr. 16, Finding 6).

         The ALJ then considered whether there was other work Plaintiff could perform, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Tr. 16, Finding 10). In making this determination, the ALJ applied the Medical-Vocational Guidelines or “the Grids.” Specifically, the ALJ applied Rule 202.20 of the Grids and determined Plaintiff was “not disabled.” Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from November 10, 2013 through the date of his decision or through July 25, 2016. (Tr. 16, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. On May 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-3). On June 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13-14. 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 ...

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