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Bearden v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Jennifer Rae Bearden, (“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 application for Disability Income 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. 8. 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 application for DIB on September 2, 2015. (Tr. 12). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due heart condition, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, thyroid, and depression. (Tr. 175). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 12). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 92-93).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on March 7, 2017. (Tr. 36-58). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Matthew Golden. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) James Wallace testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old and had a ninth grade education. (Tr. 39).

         Following the hearing, on July 31, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 12-23). In this decision, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had last met the insured status requirements of the Act on June 30, 2017. (Tr. 15, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) from her onset date of February 1, 2015 through her last date insured of June 30, 2017. (Tr. 15, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild obstructive sleep apnea; hypertension; cardiac hypokinesis with mildly reduced left ventricular function; hiatal hernia; small non-transmural myocardial infarction; hypothyroidism; mild intellectual disorder; depressive disorder; and panic disorder. (Tr. 15, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined those 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. 15, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 18-22, Finding 5). First, the ALJ 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 light work, except could tolerate occasional exposure to concentrated levels of heat and humidity as well as fumes, gases, dust and other respiratory irritants; understand, remember and carry out short, simple instructions; perform simple, routine tasks with no fast paced high quota production work; make only simple work related decisions; adapt to few if any workplace changes, and tolerate only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors and the general public. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 22, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing any of her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 22, Finding 10). The ALJ based this 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 representative occupations such as price marker with approximately 344, 400 such jobs in the nation, cafeteria attendant with approximately 59, 990 such jobs in the nation, and shelving clerk with approximately 16, 150 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from her onset date of February 1, 2015 through her last date insured of June 30, 2017. (Tr. 23, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 144-146). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On April 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 20, 21. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a “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), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. ...

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