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Stewart v. Berryhill

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

December 13, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Daniel Stewart (“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 his 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 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 his disability applications on July 19, 2014. (Tr. 135). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to mental impairments, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and manic depression. (Tr. 236). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of June 1, 2014. (Tr. 135). Her applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 80-131).

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied applications. (Tr. 161). This hearing request was granted, and Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on July 7, 2016 in McAlester, Oklahoma. (Tr. 48-79). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Melissa Brassfield testified at this hearing. Id.

         On October 25, 2016, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's disability applications. (Tr. 135-145). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2017. (Tr. 137, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since June 1, 2014, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 137, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: affective and substance abuse disorders; and cervical degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 137-138, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that 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. 138-140, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 140-143, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff' subjective complaints and found they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except the claimant cannot perform overhead reaching bilaterally; is limited to unskilled work (i.e., work which needs little or no judgment to perform simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short time period); requires simple, direct, concrete, and uncritical supervision; is limited to interpersonal contact with supervisors and coworkers that is incidental to the work performed (e.g., assembly work); he should not be required to work at a fast-paced produced speed; he must have normal and regular work breaks with occasional workplace changes; and is limited to occasional contact with the general public.


         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 143-144, Finding 6). Considering his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 144-145, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Specifically, the VE testified Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform work as an industrial sweeper cleaner (medium, unskilled) with 137, 000 such jobs in the nation and groundskeeper (medium, unskilled) with 270, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability (as defined by the Act) from June 1, 2014 through the date of the ALJ's decision or through October 25, 2016. (Tr. 145, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (Tr. 1-7). On November 8, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. Id. On November 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this case. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs and have consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF Nos. 5, 12-13. This case is now ready for determination.

         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) (2010); 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 ...

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