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Reyes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

May 20, 2019

MARIA REYES PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HON. MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Maria Reyes, 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 disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on June 23, 2016, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2016, due to back pain, neck pain, dislocation of disc, arthritis, depression, tingling of feet, and tension in muscles. (ECF No. 13, pp. 64-65). The Commissioner denied her application initially on September 27, 2016, and upon reconsideration on December 22, 2016. (Id., pp. 63, 75). At the Plaintiff's request, the Hon. Glenn A. Neel, Administrative Law Judge, held an administrative hearing on May 8, 2017. (Id., pp. 39-62). Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had earnings at the substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) level in January and February 2016, and Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 1, 2016. (Id., pp. 43-44).

         At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 42 years old with a sixth-grade education she received in Mexico. (Id., p. 46). She is illiterate in English. (Id., p. 47). She had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a poultry trimmer.[1] (Id.).

         On February 12, 2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine, osteoarthritis of the knees, right shoulder tendonitis and acromioclavicular (AC) joint changes, and obesity were severe, but he concluded they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (Id., pp. 26-28). He determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; she can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; she can frequently, but not constantly, reach and handle; and, she must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, humidity, and hazards, including no driving as part of work. (Id., pp. 28-32). With the assistance of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any PRW, but she could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as: plastics molding machine tender, hotel housekeeper, power screwdriver operator, and small product assembler. (Id., pp. 32-33). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from March 1, 2016 through the date of his decision and benefits were denied. (Id., pp. 33-34).

         The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on June 20, 2018. (Id., pp. 5-9). Plaintiff filed this action on August 22, 2018. (ECF No. 1). This matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs (ECF Nos. 16, 17), and the case is ripe for decision.

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). If there is substantial evidence in the record to support 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). In other words, 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, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Act defines “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). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

         The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider the claimant's age, education, and work experience in light of her residual functional capacity. McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff raises one issue on appeal: That the ALJ erred in his RFC analysis. (ECF No. 16, pp. 16-18). She argues that the medical evidence supports an RFC of less than sedentary, and that the ALJ erred by not including additional limitations regarding Plaintiff's upper extremities, particularly her right shoulder. (Id., p. 16). She contends the medical evidence shows “numerous issues the Plaintiff has had with her right upper extremity that would cause her to have issues grasping and holding to turn objects, as required by SSR 83-10.” (Id., p. 17). Noting that “light work” requires “a good deal of walking or standing, ” she also asserts “[s]tanding all day would be an issue.” (Id.).

         RFC is the most a person can do despite that person's limitations. 20 C.F.R.' 404.1545. A disability claimant has the burden of establishing her RFC. Vossen, 612 F.3d at 1016. “The ALJ determines a claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his or her limitations.” Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010); Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 844 (8th Cir. 2009). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R.' 404.1545(a)(3). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a “claimant's residual functional capacity is a medical question.” Miller, 784 F.3d at 479 (citing Lauer v. Apfel,245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). ...


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