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Cotton v. Berryhill

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

August 22, 2018

MELISA COTTON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          JOE J. VOLPE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INSTRUCTIONS

         This recommended disposition has been submitted to Chief United States District Judge Brian S. Miller. 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.

         RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         Melisa Cotton, Plaintiff, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. She was denied benefits on March 24, 2015, but the Appeals Council remanded that decision. (Tr. 250-251.) Another Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) reconsidered Ms. Cotton's case and concluded she had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, because jobs existed that Plaintiff could perform despite her impairments. (Tr. 107- 120.)

         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 recommend Plaintiff's Complaint be DISMISSED.

         Plaintiff was forty-three years old at the most recent administrative hearing. (Tr. 162.) She has an eleventh grade education and has past relevant work as a certified nursing assistant, cashier/checker, server, and dishwasher/cleaner. (Tr. 118.)

         The ALJ[1] found Ms. Cotton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 7, 2012 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. 109.) She has “severe” impairments in the form of fracture of the lower extremity status post-surgeries, degenerative disc disease, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, left shoulder early osteoarthritis and tendon tear, obstructive sleep apnea, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, a mood disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Id.) The ALJ further found Ms. Cotton 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. 110-112.)

         The ALJ determined Ms. Cotton had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work. (Tr. 57.) Based on his residual functional capacity assessment, the ALJ determined Ms. Cotton could no longer perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. 118.) Therefore, he utilized the services of a vocational expert to determine if other jobs existed in significant numbers that Plaintiff could perform despite her impairments. (Tr. 193-201.) Based on a set of hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform the jobs of final assembler of optical goods and toy stuffer. (Tr. 119.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Ms. Cotton was not disabled. (Tr. 119-120.)

         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's residual functional capacity assessment was flawed. (Doc. No. 10 at 4-10.) Ms. Cotton raises several points in advancing her argument. But her most compelling point is whether she has the ability to “frequently grasp and finger with both hands.” (Tr. 113.) Ms. Cotton has been diagnosed with moderate carpal tunnel syndrome and she has fairly called into question her ability to perfo r m the phy s i c a l demand s of the jobs of final assembler and ...


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