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Hixson v. Berryhill

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

October 29, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Susan Webber Wright. 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.


         Plaintiff, Brandon Hixson, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny his claim for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted briefs and the case is ready for a decision.

         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 free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). 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. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         Counsel for both sides have done admirable work on behalf of their respective clients. But after careful review of the pleadings and evidence in this case, I find the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and recommend the Complaint be DISMISSED.

         Plaintiff is young - he was only thirty years old at the time of the most recent administrative hearing.[1] (Tr. 41.) He completed the eleventh grade, earned a general equivalence degree, and attended some college on-line (id.) but has no past relevant work. (Tr. 26.)

         The ALJ[2] found Mr. Hixson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 10, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 15.) He has “severe” impairments in the form of a seizure disorder, mild neurocognitive disorder, adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features, mood disorder not otherwise specified, anxiety, and a history of polysubstance abuse. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ further found Mr. Hixson 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.[3] (Tr. 18-20.)

         The ALJ determined Mr. Hixson had some environmental and mental limitations but had the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels. (Tr. 20-21.) As previously stated, Mr. Hixson had no past relevant work, so the ALJ utilized the services of a vocational expert to determine if jobs existed that Plaintiff could perform despite his impairments. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert (Tr. 70-73), the ALJ determined Mr. Hixson could perform the jobs of hand packager, circuit board assembler/checker, mail room clerk, labeler/marker, and compact assembler. (Tr. 27.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Mr. Hixson was not disabled. (Id.)

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making his decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint initiating this appeal. (Doc. No. 2.)

         In support of his Complaint, Mr. Hixson argues that the ALJ failed to develop the record by not ordering additional consultative examinations and not developing additional evidence from James Moneypenny, Ph.D., before discounting his opinion. (Doc. No. 11 at 6-10.) Plaintiff bears a heavy burden in showing the record has been inadequately developed. He must show both a failure to develop necessary evidence and unfairness or prejudice from that failure. Combs v. Astrue, 243 Fed.Appx. 200, 204 (8th Cir. 2007). After carefully considering this argument, I find Plaintiff has shown neither.

         Plaintiff does make a good point about four years having passed between the State Agency doctors rendering their opinions and the ALJ's opinion. However, there was ample other evidence upon which the ALJ could rely. For example, the General Physical Examination by Clifford Evans, M.D., noted nothing that could be considered disabling. (Tr. 687-691.) The ALJ's assessment of Dr. Evans's report was thorough and proper. (Tr. 23-25.) And while Plaintiff argues none of Plaintiff's neurologists had been asked their opinions about Plaintiff's work restrictions, the ...

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