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West v. Berryhill

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

September 14, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Roberta West, (“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 (“SSI”) 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, 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 her application for SSI on April 23, 2014. (Tr. 14). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to heart attack, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, learning problems, abuse, high blood pressure, lower back problems, leg pain, and hearing problems. (Tr. 245). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 14). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 124-126).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on July 7, 2016. (Tr. 35-61). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Melissa Brassfield testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty-five (45) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 28, 40).

         Following the hearing, on October 17, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 14-29). In this decision, ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since April 23, 2014. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, morbid obesity, degenerative disc disease, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder with posttraumatic stress. (Tr. 17, 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. 18, Finding 3).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 20-21, 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 light work with only occasional stooping and crouching. Id. The ALJ further found Plaintiff limited to unskilled work that was simple, repetitive, and routine; where the supervision was simple, direct, concrete, and not critical; in a setting where Plaintiff frequently worked alone; where interpersonal contact with supervisors and coworkers was only incidental to the work performed, such as assembly work; not required to work at fast-paced production line speeds; must have normal, regular work breaks and only occasional workplace changes; should not be required to travel to unfamiliar places or to use public transportation as part of her work duties; should have no contact with the general public; and should not be required to count money or do math as part of her work duties. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 27, Finding 5). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had no PRW with no reported earnings or work for the past 15 years. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 28, Finding 9). 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 housekeeping cleaner with approximately 414, 000 such jobs in the nation and conveyor line bakery worker with approximately 25, 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, since April 23, 2014. (Tr. 29, Finding 10).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 216-218). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On October 12, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 14, 15. 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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