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Sells v. Berryhill

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

January 16, 2019

SHANNON SELLS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Shannon Sells, (“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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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 DIB on February 13, 2015. (Tr. 12). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to back injury, aortic insufficiency, mitral valve prolapse, and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 345). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of March 26, 2011. (Tr. 12). Her application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id.

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application. (Tr. 254-255). The request was granted and Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on October 3, 2016. (Tr. 199-224). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Lenora Maatouk testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty (40) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 203-204).

         Following the hearing, on May 2, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 12-19). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2016. (Tr. 14, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) from March 26, 2011 through her last date insured of September 30, 2016. (Tr. 14, Finding 2).

         The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: spinal myofascitis, status post lumbar discectomy, mitral valve prolapse, aortic insufficiency, hypertension and depression. (Tr. 14, 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. 14, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 16, 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 sedentary work except she is unable to more than occasionally climb, but cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; can maintain attention and concentration sufficiently to perform simple work tasks which are routine and repetitive; and can frequently interact with coworkers, supervisors and the public. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 18, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 18, Finding 10). 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 document preparer with approximately 15, 035 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, from March 26, 2011, through the date last insured of September 30, 2016. (Tr. 19, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 298). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-5). On February 5, 2018, 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. ...


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