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Vaughn v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

February 28, 2019

TOMMY R. VAUGHN PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Tommy R. Vaughn, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g).

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on May 22, 2014. (ECF No. 10, pp. 23, 161, 198, 229). He alleged that his disability began on March 2, 2002, due to right eye blindness, back and knee problems, high blood pressure, unspecified skin condition, degenerative disc disease, and bone fragments in the shoulder and neck. (Id.). His claims were denied initially on September 18, 2014, and upon reconsideration on December 8, 2014. (Id., pp. 104, 109). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and the hearing was held on July 30, 2015 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before the Hon. Clifford Shilling, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id., pp. 42-74). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by counsel, Laura J. McKinnon. (Id.). Vocational expert, Larry Seifert, and Plaintiff's significant other, Roxanne Marsh, also testified at the hearing. (Id.). On the date of the hearing, Plaintiff amended his onset date to May 3, 2013. (Id., p. 45).

         By written decision dated June 28, 2016, the ALJ found that although Plaintiff had the severe impairments of right eye blindness, degenerative disc disease, and problems with his neck and shoulders, Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (Id., pp. 26-28). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except he can occasionally perform overhead reaching bilaterally. The Claimant can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, push/pull within those limitations, stand/walk for six hours in and eight-hour workday with normal breaks, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant cannot perform work requiring depth perception or right peripheral vision. (Id., pp. 28-30).

         With the assistance of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ then determined Plaintiff would be unable to perform any past relevant work (Id., p. 30); however, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the requirements of the representative occupations of: Photocopying-machine operator (DOT No. 207.685-014), 68, 848 jobs in the national economy; Bakery worker, conveyor line (DOT No. 524.687-022), with 5, 571 jobs in the national economy; or, Blending-tank tender helper (DOT No. 520.687-066), with 9, 106 jobs in the national economy. (Id., pp. 35-36). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not been disabled under the definition of the Act from July 1, 2013 through the date of his decision. (Id.).

         On November 17, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id., pp. 1-5). Plaintiff then filed this action. (ECF No. 1). This matter is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (ECF No. 7). Both parties have filed appeal briefs. (ECF Nos. 16, 17). The case is ready for decision.

         Applicable Law

          This Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). If 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). In other words, if after reviewing the record it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the findings of the ALJ, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “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. § 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

         The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given his age, education, and experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff raises the following issues in this matter: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the severity of Plaintiff's impairments in making his RFC assessment; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the side effects of his medications; (3) whether an MRI report from May of 2018 warrants remand; and, (5) whether the Court should allow a ...


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