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Wallace v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

March 19, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Robert Alan Wallace (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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).

         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 August 5, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application and a Title XVI application. (Tr. 10). In his applications, Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due damaged nerves and ligaments in his left hand and back pain with an alleged onset date of August 4, 2010. (Tr. 10, 226). The claim was denied initially on October 20, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on December 7, 2015. (Tr. 119, 132).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 138, 155). An administrative hearing was held on March 17, 2017, in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Tr. 25-55). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. (Id.). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Myrtle M. Johnson testified at this hearing. (Id.). On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was forty-nine (49) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (SSI), and testified he had completed the twelfth grade in special education classes. (Tr. 30, 32). Plaintiff amended the onset date to December 31, 2014, at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 29).

         On June 8, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 7-20). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the last insured status requirements through December 31, 2014, which was also the amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since December 21, 2014. (Tr. 12, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: left (non-dominant) hand injury on August 4, 2010, status-post surgeries; back injury on July 15, 2009, status-post lumbar kyphoplasty; carpal tunnel syndrome; and left knee arthritis. (Tr. 12-13, 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. 13-14, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 14-18, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined they were only partially consistent with the evidence. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff returned 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he is able to perform work that involves occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; reaching and handling up to 10 pounds with the left (non-dominant) hand; and use his left hand as an assistive device. Additionally, the claimant is able to perform unskilled, rote activities; understand, follow, and remember concrete instructions; tolerate superficial contact with co-workers, supervisors, and the public at unskilled (e.g. meet/greet, make change, do simple instructions and directions).


         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined he was unable to perform any of his PRW. (Tr. 18, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was defined as a younger individual on the amended alleged disability onset date, but subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age. (Tr. 18, Finding 7). The ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, specifically that of a counter clerk or a furniture rental consultant. (Tr. 19, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the Vocational Expert. (Tr. 19, Finding 10).

         Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council's review the ALJ's unfavorable disability determination. (Tr. 191). On January 25, 2018, the Appeals Council declined to review Plaintiff's appeal. (Tr. 1). On February 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 13, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12-13. 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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