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Cogburn v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

February 7, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Lisa Cogburn (“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 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.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         On April 1, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed her application. (Tr. 20, 183, 195). In her application, Plaintiff alleges she was disabled due to spinal degeneration and stenosis in her neck and back, bulging or herniated discs in her back, muscle spasms in her shoulder and left foot, kidney failure, neck stiffness, chronic pain, low blood pressure, metabolic disease, shortness of breath, shock, blood infection, urinary tract infection, and depression with an alleged onset date of December 25, 2013. (Tr. 20, 195, 250, 282). The claim was denied initially on August 17, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on October 10, 2015. (Tr. 20, 96-116, 116-18, 123-24).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 20, 126, 143). An administrative hearing was held on August 8, 2016, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Tr. 20, 34-70). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Shannon Muse Carrol. (Tr. 34-70). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Kathy Mundy testified at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff's sister, Gladys V. Kreider, also testified. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was forty-seven (47) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20. C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (SSI), and testified she had graduated from high school. (Tr. 39-40).

         On January 24, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 17-29). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 21, 2016. (Tr. 22, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since December 25, 2013, the initial application date. (Tr. 22, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the back and depression. (Tr. 22, Finding 3). The ALJ, however, also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 22-23, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 24-27, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined they were not entirely consistent with the evidence in the record. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except: the claimant could occasionally climb, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. She can lift ten pounds, performing work at the sitting position for six to eight hours of an eight-hour workday, one to two hours with no restrictions. The claimant can stand or walk for one to two hours out of an eight-hour day with no restrictions and no more than one-half hour at a time. She is restricted in bilateral reaching overhead because of pain. She is limited to unskilled, rote activities. The claimant can understand, remember, and follow concrete instructions. She can have superficial contact with the general public, coworkers, supervisors. The claimant can meet, greet, make change, and give simple instructions and directions.


         With the assistance of the Vocational Expert, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined she was unable to perform any of her PRW. (Tr. 27, Finding 6). The ALJ did, however, determine Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, specifically that of a hand sorter, final assembler, or hand labeler. (Tr. 27-28, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the Vocational Expert. (Tr. 27-28, Finding 10). The ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled for the duration of the relevant time period, from December 25, 2013, through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 28, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council's review the ALJ's unfavorable disability determination. (Tr. 179). Plaintiff submitted additional medical evidence to the Appeals Council, none of which was considered. (Tr. 1-4, 8, 70-76). On October 31, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's disability determination. (Tr. 1-4). On December 12, 2017, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on December 12, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 16. 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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