United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
KECIA E. PORTERFIELD PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security DEFENDANT
PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED
VOLPE UNITERSTATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
recommended disposition has been submitted to Chief United
States District Judge Brian S. Miller. The parties may file
specific objections to these findings and recommendations and
must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection.
The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than
fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and
recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party.
The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may
reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole
or in part.
E. Porterfield (“Plaintiff”) has appealed the
final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security to deny her claim for a social security income and
disability insurance benefits. (Doc. No. 3.) Both parties
have submitted appeal briefs (Doc. Nos. 14, 17), and the case
is now ready for a decision.
review function is extremely limited. A court's function
on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record
as a whole and free of legal error. Slusser v.
Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v.
Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see
also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th
Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence,
courts must consider evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports
it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's
decision merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart,
368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala,
3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).
history of the administrative proceedings and the statement
of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the
respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore,
they will not be repeated in this opinion except as
necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a
whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner should be
was fifty-two at the time of the most recent administrative
hearing. (Tr. 987.) Her insurance will run through December
31, 2019, so Plaintiff must establish disability on or before
that date in order to be entitled to a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits. (Tr.8.) Plaintiff
testified she earned an associate degree. (Tr. 987.) She has
past relevant work as a customer service representative,
receptionist, and accounts payable/receivable clerk. (Tr.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had
a combination of “severe” impairments, including:
fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal issues related to Chron's
disease and/or irritable bowel syndrome, major depressive
disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 947.) The
ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 948-949.)
However, fibromyalgia, one of Plaintiff's most severe
symptoms, is not a listed physical impairment within the
context of the Act. (Tr. 948.)
assessed that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform a reduced range of light work. (Tr. 950.)
Based on this finding, the ALJ determined Ms. Porterfield
could no longer perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 968.)
However, utilizing the services of a vocational expert, (Tr.
1007-1011), the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform
other jobs that exist in the national economy - namely
housekeeper and price tag ticketer. (Tr. 969.) Accordingly,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 950.)
support of her Complaint, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by
failing to evaluate or consider the reported global
assessment of functioning (“GAF”) scores of
record. (Doc. No. 14 at 12-14.) Plaintiff experienced periods
of time where her GAF score would remain below 50 for several
consecutive months. (Doc. No. 14 at 13.) From January 27 to
September 17, 2015, her GAF score was consistently rated as
45. (Tr. 711, 886.) During this time, Plaintiff was diagnosed
with and treated for major depressive disorder and
obsessive-compulsive disorder by Tara Smith, LAC, and Sharon
Curtis, M.D. (Tr. 711, 717, 729-738, 821-886.) Her GAF score,
however, did not change. (Id.) Since the ALJ did not
take Plaintiff's GAF score as a direct indicator of a
disability, Plaintiff argues that the case should be reversed
and remanded. (Doc. No. 14 at 14.)
carefully considered Plaintiff's argument but find it to
be without merit. Because the GAF scale is a tool used by
mental health professionals to determine proper treatment
options, it is not perfectly suited to determine a
petitioner's disability status under the Act.
Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 930-931 (8th Cir.
2010). While an ALJ is not able to completely overlook GAF
scores in the disability assessment process, a GAF score
below 50 is still not an automatic indicator of disability.
See Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 944-45 (8th
Cir. 2009); Jones, 619 F.3d at 973-74. GAF scores in
the mid-40s to low-50s are not necessarily dispositive and
“an ALJ ...