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Jones v. Berryhill

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

June 28, 2018

DARIN D. JONES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Darin D. Jones, (“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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income 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 his application for DIB and SSI on June 19, 2014. (Tr. 243-255). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to respiratory conditions, enlarged heart, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 272). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 37). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 188-189).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on May 3, 2016. (Tr. 57-88). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dale Thomas, testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty-six (46) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 61).

         Following the hearing, on June 2, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 37-48). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2018. (Tr. 40, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2014. (Tr. 40, Finding 2).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obstructive sleep apnea; congestive heart failure; diabetes; depression and anxiety. (Tr. 40, 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. 40, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 41-42, 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 light work, with the additional restrictions of no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing stairs and ramps; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than occasional exposure to dust, gases, respiratory irritants, or extremes of temperature or humidity; short, simple work instructions and simple, routine work tasks with no fast-paced high quota production work; simple work related decisions; adapting to few if any work place changes; and no more than occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, or the general public. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 46, Finding 6). The ALJ determined 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. 47, 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 bench assembler with approximately 108, 000 such jobs in the nation, laundry worker with approximately 306, 000 such jobs in the nation, and hand packager approximately 57, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from January 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 47, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 239-242). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On August 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 16. 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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