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Monroe v. Saul

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

July 10, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Pamela S. Monroe, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). 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 applications for SSI and DIB on March 6, 2017, due to bilateral rotator cuff syndrome, right knee, anxiety, weakness in legs and arms, balance issues, and multiple sclerosis. (ECF No. 12, pp. 20, 197, 204, 243). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of February 28, 2017. (Id.). Her claims were denied initially on June 5, 2017, and upon reconsideration on July 25, 2017. (Id., pp. 20, 130, 133, 139, 141). An administrative hearing was held on April 3, 2018, before the Hon. Edward M. Starr, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id., pp. 36-72). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented by counsel, Matthew J. Ketcham. (Id.). A vocational expert, Jim Spragins, also testified at the hearing. (Id.).

         By written decision dated May 31, 2018, the ALJ found Plaintiff's respiratory disorder, peripheral neuropathy, and cervical spine disorder to be severe, but found that these impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (Id., pp. 17, 22-24). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except frequently reach overhead bilaterally, climb, balance, crawl, bend, stoop, and crouch, and; must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as dusts, odors, and gases. (Id., pp. 24-29).

         With the assistance of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ then determined Plaintiff would be able to perform her past relevant work as a legal secretary (DOT No. 201.362-10) as generally performed. (Id., p. 29). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not been disabled under the definition of the Act from February 28, 2017 through the date of his decision. (Id.).

         On August 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id., pp. 5-7). Plaintiff then filed this action on September 18, 2018. (ECF No. 1). This matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. (ECF Nos. 15, 16). The case is ready for decision.

         II. Relevant Evidence

         The undersigned has conducted a thorough review of the entire record in this case. The complete sets of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff completed a work history report on April 13, 2017. (ECF No. 12, pp. 255-262). Plaintiff described the work she performed at the job in question as: “I was a paralegal, I typed legal docs, prepared reports and briefs, indices; pleading, interrogatories and requests for production.” (Id., p. 257). Plaintiff indicated that she occasionally handled boxes with files, “perhaps weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.” (Id.). She indicated the heaviest weight she lifted was 20 pounds, and the heaviest weight frequently lifted was less than 10 pounds. (Id.). She indicated she worked eight hours per day; walked one hour; sat six hours; reached two hours; stood one hour; stooped half an hour; kneeled half an hour; and, crouched for .2 hours per day. (Id.). Plaintiff indicated she did not crawl, or handle, grab or grasp big objects, nor supervise other people at this job. (Id.).

         On July 7, 2017, Plaintiff completed another work history report. (Id., pp. 279-287). Plaintiff repeated the job description as previously reported on April 13, 2017, but she added faxing, phones, copying, e-filing, mailing, and going to the courthouse to her job duties. (Id., p. 281). Plaintiff indicated she walked one hour; stood one hour; sat four hours; kneeled half an hour; crouched half an hour; reached one hour; and, typed or handled small objects for seven hours per day. (Id.). Plaintiff reported she sometimes had to lift file boxes, that the heaviest weight lifted was 20 pounds, and the heaviest weight frequently lifted was 10 pounds. (Id.).

         At the administrative hearing held on April 3, 2018, Plaintiff testified that she was then working five hours a day, five days a week as a legal assistant for a local attorney. (Id., p. 43). She spent most of her time at a computer station or typewriter. (Id.). She had to quit her previous job at Dillard's due to inability to be around fragrances, and then problems with walking for long distances or standing for long periods of time. (Id., pp. 46-48). She testified that Dillard's attempted to accommodate her by transferring her from the fragrance department to the ladies' ready to wear department and changing her work to part time, but she was unable to work in that department due to her legs. (Id., pp. 47-48). Plaintiff said her current employer was aware of her conditions and was understanding of her need to come in late or leave early sometimes. (Id., p. 49). Plaintiff testified that she did not take a lunch break, but she would take a break from work and just look out the window or go in and sit with her boss a couple times per day. (Id., pp. 64-65).

         Plaintiff testified she experienced pain between her shoulder blades that went down to her elbows when she sat at the computer. (Id., p. 58). She stated the only household chore she was able to perform was a load of laundry once a week, but she was unable to do ...

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