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Madison v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL DEFENDANT Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration



         Kathy Madison (“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 Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability.

         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. 7.[1] 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 DIB application on April 25, 2013. (Tr. 126). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to pulled ligaments in her left arm, carpal tunnel syndrome in her right arm, and heartburn. (Tr. 301). Plaintiff originally alleged an onset date of July 28, 2011 but later amended that alleged onset date to November 25, 2011. (Tr. 15). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 106-122).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 43-63). Plaintiff's first administrative hearing was held on June 12, 2014. (Tr. 43-63). The ALJ then entered an unfavorable decision on June 25, 2015. (Tr. 123-144). After this decision was entered, Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ for further administrative review. (Tr. 145-149).

         The ALJ then held a second administrative hearing on September 12, 2017. (Tr. 64-105). This hearing was held in Texarkana, Arkansas. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Mr. Rue[2]testified at the administrative hearing in this matter. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was fifty-five (55) years old, which is defined as an “person of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e) (2008). (Tr. 71). Plaintiff also testified she had only completed the eleventh grade in school. Id.

         On November 20, 2017, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 12-31). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2016. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) from her amended alleged onset date of November 25, 2011 through her date last insured of December 31, 2016. (Tr. 17, Fining 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following “medically determinable impairments”: arthritis of the right foot status-post fracture of right fifth metatarsal, umbilical hernia, diabetes, hypertension, cardiomegaly, status-post lateral epicondylectomy, GERD, de Quervain's syndrome, right carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), depression, hyperlipidemia, and obesity. (Tr. 17, Finding 3).

         The ALJ, however, also determined that although these were “medically determinable impairments, ” they were not “severe” impairments. (Tr. 17-23, Finding 4). Thus, because Plaintiff had no “severe” impairments, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time from November 25, 2011 (alleged onset date) through December 31, 2016 (Plaintiff's date last insured). (Tr. 23, Finding 5).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the review of the Appeals Council. (Tr. 1-6). On June 22, 2018, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On August 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this matter. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on August 20, 2018. ECF No. 7. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11-12. 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) (2010); 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 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. See 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 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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