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Mitchell v. Berryhill

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

May 14, 2019

STEVEN T. MITCHELL PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Steven T. Mitchell, (“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 applications 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 his application for DIB on August 5, 2015 and for SSI on August 20, 2015. (Tr. 148). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to depression, anxiety, hypertension, migraine headaches, gastro esophageal reflux, insomnia, asplenic, leukocytosis, torn rotator cuff right shoulder, severe back spasms, compromised immune system, and removed spleen and part of pancreas. (Tr. 481). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 148). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and that hearing request was granted. (Tr. 361-363).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on March 21, 2017. (Tr. 190-227). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Terry Diggs. Id. Plaintiff, his mother Martha Mitchell, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Wilfred Roux testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-three (53) years old and had a high school education with two years of college. (Tr. 482).

         Following the hearings, on July 26, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 148-157). In this decision, the ALJ found the Plaintiff had last met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 30, 2016. (Tr. 151, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since his onset date of December 31, 2010. (Tr. 151, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, migraines, asplenia, and degenerative joint disease. (Tr. 151, 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. 151, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 152-155, 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 light work except is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; making simple work-related decisions; and limited to work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 155, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing any of his PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 156, 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 office helper with approximately 71, 760 such jobs in the nation, router dispatcher with approximately 17, 340 such jobs in the nation, and dry cleaner with approximately 199, 330 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 December 31, 2010 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 157, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 434-435). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On July 16, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 15, 16. 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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