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Johnson v. Berryhill

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

January 17, 2019

VINCENT JOHNSON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER

         Vincent Johnson (“Johnson”) applied for social security disability benefits on September 9, 2009, with an alleged disability onset date of January 10, 2007. (R. at 283). His disabling impairments related to back problems and headaches. (R. at 341).

         On May 5, 2011, after an administrative hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied his applications. (R. at 126). On October 20, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded the case because the ALJ had failed to assign weight to the opinion of a treating source and because it was unclear whether the job of fast food worker qualified as past relevant work. (R. at 132-33).

         Another administrative hearing was conducted, and, on June 26, 2012, Johnson's applications were again denied. (R. at 148). On March 1, 2013, the Appeals Council again remanded the ALJ's decision because he failed to properly consider a treating source opinion and failed to evaluate and enter into the record a medical source statement from a consultative examiner. (R. at 155-56).

         On July 22, 2014, after conducting a third administrative hearing, an ALJ denied Johnson's applications for benefits. (R. at 24). The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. (R. at 1).

         On March 10, 2014, Johnson filed a Complaint seeking judicial review. (R. at 723). On March 13, 2015, the Court entered its decision reversing and remanding the Commission's decision because the ALJ failed to resolve a conflict between the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). (R. at 732-38).

         On December 3, 2015, an ALJ conducted a fourth administrative hearing. (R. at 664-693). During the hearing, Johnson testified that, on April 1, 2013, he returned to full-time work with the City of Blytheville performing trash pickup, as well as landscaping maintenance, which included operating a weed-eater and a zero-turn mower. (R. at 667-68). Based on this change in his employment status, Johnson requested a closed period of disability from his original alleged onset of disability date of January 10, 2007, through March 31, 2013. (R. at 666-69).

         On December 24, 2015, the ALJ entered his decision denying benefits because Johnson was not disabled during the closed period of disability. (R. at 598). On February 6, 2017, the Appeals Council declined Johnson's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. (R. at 577). Johnson has appealed the Commission's decision to this Court. (Doc. 2).[1]

         For the reasons stated below, this Court affirms the ALJ's decision.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Johnson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between January 10, 2007 and March 31, 2013, the alleged closed period of disability. (R. at 589). Based on Johnson's severe impairments of degenerative disk disease, shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis of the hips, the ALJ determined that Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that he could occasionally climb stairs, stoop, crouch, bend, kneel, and balance; frequently reach overhead bilaterally; not climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolding; and perform work that is simple, routine, and repetitive with supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete. (R. at 590).[2] During the alleged closed period of disability, the ALJ concluded that Johnson's RFC precluded him from performing his past relevant work as a groundskeeper (medium), trash collector (very heavy), oil changer (medium), tire repairer/changer (heavy), grinder (medium but possibly performed at the light level), equipment cleaner (medium), and clean up worker (medium). (R. at 590).

         At step five, the ALJ heard testimony from a VE, who testified that a hypothetical person of Johnson's age, with the same work experience and RFC, could perform jobs available in the national economy, which included work as ticketer/tagger or small parts packer. (R. at 597). Thus, the ALJ held that Johnson was not disabled during the alleged closed period of disability between January 10, 2007 and March 31, 2013. (R. at 598).

         II. Discussion

         Johnson argues that the ALJ did not adequately explain the weight given to portions of consultative examiners' opinions rendered by Raymond Valdes, M.D., and Dana Kinney, M.D., both of whom were doctors of internal medicine. He also argues that the ALJ did not resolve inconsistencies between their medical opinions and the RFC. These arguments fail for the reasons explained below.

         According to Johnson, the ALJ did not adequately discuss why he did not credit the portion of Dr. Valdes's opinion, dated November 18, 2009, in which he opined that Johnson had moderate limitations on prolonged walking. (R. at 522). He also argues the ALJ failed to properly explain why he discredited the portion of Dr. Kinney's opinion, dated October 5, 2012, in which ...


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