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Nichols v. Berryhill

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

February 7, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Christina Rhea Nichols (“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. 8.[1] 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 applications for DIB and SSI benefits on August 1, 2012. (Tr. 322-331). Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to due to bipolar disorder, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity. (Tr. 385). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of August 1, 2010. Id. These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 147-153, 161-164). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 165-173).

         On July 29, 2015, Plaintiff had her administrative hearing. (Tr. 27-40). Following this hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 27, 2015. (Tr. 126-136). On September 9, 2016, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case. (Tr. 144-145).

         A second administrative hearing was held on April 18, 2017. (Tr. 41-66). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Matthew Golden. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Wilfred Roux testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty (40) years old and had a high school education with some college. (Tr. 19, 386).

         On May 25, 2017, subsequent to the hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 10-20). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status of the Act through March 31, 2015. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since August 1, 2010. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had severe impairments of bipolar disorder and anxiety. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff's 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 Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 15-19, Finding 5). First, the ALJ indicated he 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels, except can understand, remember and carry out short, simple instructions; can perform simple, routine tasks with no fast-paced high quota production work; can make only simple work related decisions; can adapt too few, if any, workplace changes; and can tolerate only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors and the general public. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 19, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 19-20, Finding 10). The ALJ based his 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 a representative occupation such as a housekeeper with approximately 929, 540 such jobs in the nation, dry cleaner worker with approximately 199, 330 such jobs in the nation, and mailroom sorter with approximately 99, 190 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 August 1, 2010, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 20, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 5-6). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On February 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 22, 23. This case is now ready for decision.

         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) (2006); 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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