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Montgomery v. Social Security Administration

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

January 28, 2019

BRANDON MONTGOMERY PLAINTIFF
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Brandon Montgomery has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision.[1]

         I. Background:

         Mr. Montgomery claims that he became limited in his ability to work due to arthropathies, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, shoulder surgery, and hip issues. (SSA record at 43-44, 62, 78) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)[2] concluded that Mr. Montgomery had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) at any time from February 24, 2015 through the date of his decision, March 29, 2017. (Id. at 24) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Montgomery's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (Id. at 1-5) Mr. Montgomery then filed a complaint initiating this appeal. (#2)

         Mr. Montgomery was 29 at the time of the hearing, had a tenth-grade education and had passed his GED examination. (Id. at 37) He lived with a friend. (Id. 37-38) He had past relevant work as a fast food worker, fry cook, poultry packer, industrial cleaner, poultry deboner, and cashier II. (Id. at 23, 52-56)

         II. The ALJ's Decision:

         The ALJ determined that Mr. Montgomery had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 24, 2015, and that his internal derangement of the right shoulder status-post two operations, hepatitis C, and major depression with psychotic features were severe impairments; but, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met a listed impairment. (Id. at 17-19) He further found that Mr. Montgomery's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (Id. at 19-20)

         Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant period, Mr. Montgomery retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, except that he was limited to occasional overhead reaching and would need a job involving simple tasks and simple instructions. (Id. at 19)

         The ALJ found that Mr. Montgomery could not perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 23) Relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”), the ALJ held, based on Mr. Montgomery's age, education, work experience and RFC, that he could perform work in the national economy as a price marker and plastics molding machine tender. (Id. at 24) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Mr. Montgomery was not disabled. (Id. at 24)

         III. Discussion:

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record and free of legal error. Chismarich v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978, 979 (8th Cir. 2018); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence in this context means enough relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. (citing Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010) (other citation omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must consider evidence in the record that supports the decision, and also, evidence that detracts from the decision. Stanton v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 899 F.3d 555, 557 (8th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Tilley v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 675, 679 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         A. Issues on Appeal

         Mr. Montgomery claims that the ALJ's mental RFC assessment is contrary to substantial evidence, because he failed to properly evaluate and incorporate the opinion evidence. More specifically, he claims that the ALJ erred by only limiting him to work involving “simple tasks and simple instructions” without including a limitation for work that requires only minimal social interactions. (#11 at 4) The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence and any error was harmless. (#12 at 4-5)

         B. ...


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