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Rogers v. Saul

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

July 26, 2019

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



         Plaintiff, Penny Rogers, 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 a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(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. BACKGROUND

         This case has a lengthy procedural history. Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on October 27, 2009, alleging an onset date of October 1, 2008, due to bulging disks in the spine. (ECF No. 12, pp. 226-229). Her application was denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. An initial administrative hearing was held on her DIB claim on September 9, 2010, resulting in an unfavorable decision by Administrative Law Judge Edward Starr on November 22, 2010. (Id. at 72-100, 106-113). She subsequently filed an application for SSI benefits on November 3, 2011, alleging the same onset date and grounds for disability.

         Plaintiff appealed the unfavorable DIB decision to the Appeals Council, and the case was remanded on May 25, 2012. (Id. at 118-121).

         A second administrative hearing was held on September 19, 2012, resulting in an unfavorable decision by Administrative Law Judge Bill Jones on March 6, 2013, denying Plaintiff's claims under both applications. (Id. at 43-71, 19-36). On appeal to this Court, the case was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration on June 1, 2015. (Id. at 749-755). The ALJ was directed to properly consider the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Piechal.

         Judge Jones held a third administrative hearing on January 6, 2016, which also resulted in the entry of an unfavorable administrative decision on April 26, 2016. (Id. at 688-713, 660-680). On January 27, 2017, pursuant to the Defendant's Motion to Remand, this Court remanded the case a second time. On July 17, 2017, Judge Starr held a fourth, and final, administrative hearing, at which time the Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. (Id. at 1230-1247).

         Plaintiff was between 27 and 36 years of age during the time period relevant to the applications filed in this case. Further, she possessed a high school education with past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a cable machine operator/standing machine operator, appliance assembler, waitress, and phlebotomist.

         On April 2, 2018, Judge Starr concluded Plaintiff's back impairment, obesity, dysthymia, and personality disorder with borderline and histrionic traits were severe but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Id. at 1183-1206). He found Plaintiff capable of performing a full range of sedentary work with the use of a cane to ambulate, but determined she was limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, involving only simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes, and no more than interpersonal contact with supervisors and the general public. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work as a document preparer, copy examiner, and printed circuit board layout checker.

         Plaintiff then filed this action on July 31, 2018. (ECF No. 1). The matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs (ECF Nos. 15, 16), and the case is ready for decision.


         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). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports 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), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

         The Commissioner's regulations require him 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), 416.920(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her residual ...

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