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Zahn v. Berryhill

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

July 10, 2018

DONITA ZAHN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Donita Zahn, (“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 Supplemental Security Income under Title 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, ing the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 7. 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 SSI on August 11, 2014. (Tr. 20). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to pain in her bones and two discs in her neck. (Tr. 150). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 47-65). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 85-87).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on August 9, 2016. (Tr. 34-46). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Ivory Youngblood, testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old and had a fifth grade education. (Tr. 151, 185).

         Following the hearing, on September 12, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 20-28). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since August 11, 2014. (Tr. 22, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spines, degenerative joint disease, and chronic obstructive, pulmonary disease. (Tr. 22, Finding 2). 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. 24, Finding 3).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 24, Finding 4). 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 the full range of light work. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 27, Finding 5). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a motel housekeeper. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, since August 11, 2014. (Tr. 27, Finding 6).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 131-132). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On August 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 12. 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. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

         3. ...


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