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Smith v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

December 10, 2018

ELIZABETH SMITH PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Elizabeth Smith, (“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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and 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. 7. 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 DIB on August 15, 2014 and SSI on September 8, 2014. (Tr. 344). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to diabetes, arthritis, left arm pain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. (Tr. 597). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 344). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 443-444).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on October 13, 2015. (Tr. 25-56). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, James Miners. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Montie Lumpkin testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old and had a tenth grade education. (Tr. 366).

         Following the hearing, on November 18, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 344-355). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2017. (Tr. 346, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since June 1, 2014. (Tr. 346, Finding 2).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, mild osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, hypertension and obesity. (Tr. 346, Finding 3). 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. 347, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 347, Finding 5). 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 the following exceptions, she can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, she can never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; she could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; and she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including no driving as a part of work. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 353, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a cashier. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from, June 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 355, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 497). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On November 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 16, 17. 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. ...


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