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Thomas v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2019

ANDRELYN R. THOMAS PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Andrelyn R. Thomas, 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. 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 applications for DIB and SSI on December 1, 2014. (Tr. 79). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to sarcoidosis of the lungs and organs, sleep apnea with an alleged onset date of September 4, 2014. (Tr. 79, 465, 484). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 79). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing and that administrative hearing was held on March 20, 2017. (Tr. 308-329). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Lisa Douglas. Id. Plaintiff, Plaintiff's sister, Natalie, and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. Id.

         Following the hearing, on February 1, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 76-86). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 81, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: pulmonary sarcoidosis, ocular sarcoidosis, morbid obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. (Tr. 81, 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. 82, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 15-18, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except that she must avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 85, 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. 19-20, 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 a patcher with approximately 6, 800 such jobs in the nation or a touch up screener with approximately 8, 500 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon these finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from September 3, 2014 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 86, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 438). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-4).

         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 14. 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. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

         3. ...


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