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Greer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

June 20, 2019

ERIC M. GREER PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

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

         Eric Greer, (“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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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. 7. 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 January 12, 2015. (Tr. 48). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, anger issues, lumbar spine bulging discs, disc degeneration, narrowing of spinal column, nerve problems with numbness in arms and hands, and chronic headaches. (Tr. 278). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of December 3, 2014. (Tr. 48). His application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id.

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied application. (Tr. 195-196). This hearing request was granted and Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 30, 2017. (Tr. 107-144). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, William Kirby Mouser. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dianne Smith testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty (40) years old and had a high school education with some college. (Tr. 112, 114).

         Following the hearing, on May 11, 2017, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 48-61). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2020. (Tr. 50, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since December 3, 2014. (Tr. 50, Finding 2).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, post-traumatic arthritis of the ankle, carpal tunnel syndrome, morbid obesity, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 50, 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. 52, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 54, 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 a range of sedentary work and could lift or carry 10 pounds; could occasionally climb, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; sit for six to eight hours in an eight-hour workday; walk one to two hours in an eight-hour workday; frequently reach and handle with the right dominant hand and only occasionally with the left non-dominant hand; could not work at unrestricted heights, ladders, or scaffolding; limited to unskilled rote activity; could understand, follow, and remember concrete instructions; and could have only superficial contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 59, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not capable of performing his PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 60, 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 document preparer with approximately 45, 000 such jobs in the nation and surveillance system monitor with approximately 15, 000 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 3, 2014 through the date of the decison. (Tr. 61, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. (252-258). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On June 21, 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. ...


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