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Patton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

July 25, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Andrea Patton, Plaintiff, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded she had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, because she could perform some of her past relevant work. (Tr. 52-70.)

         This review function is extremely limited. A court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and to analyze whether Plaintiff was denied benefits due to legal error. Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996).

         In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful review of the pleadings and evidence in this case, I find the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and Plaintiff's Complaint should be DISMISSED.

         Plaintiff is fifty-six years old. (Tr. 111.) She is a high school graduate and has past relevant work as home health attendant and customer service representative. (Tr. 68.)

         The ALJ[1] found Ms. Patton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 20, 2015 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. 54.) She has “severe” impairments in the form of fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, osteoarthrosis, allied disorders and peripheral neuropathy. (Tr. 55.) The ALJ further found Ms. Patton did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[2] (Tr. 55-56.)

         The ALJ determined Ms. Patton had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. 57.) He utilized the services of a vocational expert to determine the demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work. (Tr. 133.) Based on a set of hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert (Tr. 133-136), the ALJ determined Ms. Patton could perform her past relevant work as a customer service representative. (Tr. 68.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Ms. Patton was not disabled. (Tr. 69.)

         The Appeals Council received additional evidence but denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making his decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint initiating this appeal. (Doc. No. 2.)

         In support of her Complaint, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to develop the record by not ordering additional consultative examinations. (Doc. No. 12 at 7-10.) The ALJ is permitted to issue a decision without obtaining additional evidence as long as the record is sufficient to make an informed decision. E.g., Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 749 (8th Cir. 2001); Anderson v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir. 1995). Here, there is ample evidence to support the ALJ's decision. Moreover, Plaintiff is reminded she had the burden of proving her disability. E.g., Sykes v. Bowen, 854 F.2d 284, 285 (8th Cir. 1988). Thus, she bore the responsibility of presenting the strongest case possible. Thomas v. Sullivan, 928 F.2d 255, 260 (8th Cir. 1991).

         I understand Plaintiff's point - that “The ALJ was well aware that the mental RFC was going to be outcome determinative in light of Plaintiff's age.” (Doc. No. 12 at 9.) But the overall evidence of record supports the ALJ's determination Ms. Patton had no “severe” mental impairments - a determination shared by Nick Rios, Psy.D., and Susan Daugherty, Ph.D. (Tr. 55, 144, 170-171.) A “severe” impairment is one that significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997); Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 821 (8th Cir. 1992); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c) (2007). It has “more than a minimal effect ...

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