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Morgan v. Berryhill

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

September 17, 2018

MARY B. MORGAN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Mary B. Morgan (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 205(g) 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 decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and a period of disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct 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.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         On March 11, 2014, the Plaintiff protectively filed her applications. (Tr. 208, 229-231). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges she was disabled due to carpal tunnel syndrome, spinal arthritis, and high blood pressure beginning September 11, 2013. (Tr. 241). These claims were denied initially on May 1, 2014, and upon reconsideration on August 26, 2014. (Tr. 143, 155).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on her application and this application was granted. (Tr. 157, 172). An administrative hearing was held on December 9, 2015, in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 81, 172). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. (Tr. 81). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Juanita Grant testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was sixty (60) years old, which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under 20. C.F.R. § 416.963(e). (Tr. 86).

         On March 28, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's disability applications. (Tr. 66). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017. (Tr. 71, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 11, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 71, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral, and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 71-72, Finding 3). The ALJ, however, also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 72, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 72-75, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(b) except she can occasionally stoop and crouch and should not be required to perform manipulative functions continually. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined she could perform her past relevant work of supervisor in retail store, assistant manager. (Tr. 75, Finding 6). The ALJ concluded Plaintiff had not been under disability under the Act from September 11, 2013 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 75, Finding 7).

         Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable disability determination. (Tr. 65). On March 17, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's disability determination. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff filed the present appeal on April 6, 2017. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 7, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11-12. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         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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