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Carroll v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

April 4, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Rhoda Carroll, (“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”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II and XVI 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. 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 application for DIB and SSI on November 24, 2015. (Tr. 19). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to history of Bells palsy, problems with gastric bypass surgery, asthma, myalgia, lightheadedness, dizzy, chest discomfort, chronic constipation, chronic nausea, obesity, and gastritis. (Tr. 236). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 19). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 123-124).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on May 23, 2017. (Tr. 34-55). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Sydney Brown. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Leonard Francois testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-nine (39) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 37, 39).

         Following the hearing, on August 29, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 19-29). In this decision, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had last met the insured status requirements of the Act through August 31, 2018. (Tr. 22, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since her alleged onset date of March 17, 2013. (Tr. 22, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, asthma, history of Bell's palsy with recurrence, neuropathy, migraines, and anxiety. (Tr. 22, 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. 22, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 23, 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 sedentary work, except is limited from concentrated exposure to cold, humidity, and noise, and from performing complex work tasks due to emotional problems. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 27, 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. 27, 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 document specialist with approximately 46, 000 such jobs in the nation, telephone information clerk with approximately 3, 400 such jobs in the nation, and press clipping cutter and paster with approximately 3, 900 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 March 17, 2013 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 28, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 183-184). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On June 6, 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. ...

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