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Howard v. Berryhill

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

April 9, 2019

FREDDIE DON HOWARD JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Freddie Don Howard Jr., (“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 his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title 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 his application for SSI on March 30, 2015. (Tr. 11). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to due to a neck, back, and groin injury, vascular disorder, venous stasis insufficiency, superficial blood clots, high blood pressure, and mental issues. (Tr. 190). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 120-122).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on April 25, 2017. (Tr. 50-79). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Lenora Maatouk testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old and had a GED. (Tr. 55, 57).

         Following the hearing, on July 24, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 11-23). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since March 30, 2015. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, peripheral vascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and obesity. (Tr. 13, Finding 2). 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. 16, Finding 3).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 17-21, Finding 4). 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 light work except could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb stairs and ramps; could never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; must avoid even moderate exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, odors, and other pulmonary irritants; and may require a cane for ambulation. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 21, Finding 5). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing any 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 9). 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 304, 341 such jobs in the nation, cashier II with approximately 861, 570 such jobs in the nation, and hotel housekeeper with approximately 134, 955 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, since March 30, 2015. (Tr. 23, Finding 10).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 171-173). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-5). On June 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. 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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