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Birge v. Berryhill

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

March 8, 2019

DORA P. BIRGE PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED, STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Dora P. Birge, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act (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).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on July 9, 2015, alleging an inability to work since July 1, 2015, due to degenerative disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis, herniated discs, bulging discs, spondylitis, multiple bone spurs, hypersomnolence, hypoglycemia, hypoactive thyroid, and depression. (Tr. 245, 441). An administrative hearing was held on March 26, 2016, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 278-316).

         By written decision dated August 19, 2016, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome status post bilateral carpal tunnel release; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; osteoarthritis; and anxiety. (Tr. 243-246). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.157(b) except that she can perform frequent, but not repetitive, handling, grasping, and fingering. In addition, she can perform work with simple tasks and simple instructions and incidental contact with the public.

(Tr. 246). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work, but would be capable of performing work as an office helper, content inspector, or blending tank tender. (Tr. 256).

         Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 4). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12).

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). 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. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001; see also 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(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. §§423(d)(3). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her 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 had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant had a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) met or equaled an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevented the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant was able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her RFC. See McCoy v. Schneider, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20C.F.R. SS404.1520, abrogated on other grounds by Higgens v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R §404.1520.

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff raises the following issues in this matter: 1) Whether the ALJ properly developed the record; 2) Whether the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's hypersomnolence and nocturnal hypoxemia to be severe ...


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