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Jones v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

September 17, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner Social Security Administration[1] DEFENDANT


         This Recommendation has been sent to Judge Billy Roy Wilson. Either party may file written objections to the Recommendation. If objections are filed, they should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection.

         To be considered, objections must be received in the office of the Court Clerk within 14 days of this Recommendation. If no objections are filed, Judge Wilson can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, parties may waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         On March 9, 2015, Cheryl Yolanda Jones applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning January 17, 2015. (Tr. at 11) Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 28). Ms. Jones requested the Appeals Council to review the ALJ’s decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ’s decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Jones filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.

         II. The Commissioner’s Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Jones had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 17, 2015. (Tr. at 13) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Jones had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, status post double foot surgeries, sleep apnea, an affective disorder, and an anxiety disorder. Id.

         After finding that Ms. Jones’s impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 14), the ALJ determined that Ms. Jones had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work with some additional limitations. (Tr. at 17) She could only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Id. She could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. She could only occasionally reach overhead with her right upper extremity. (Tr. at 18) She could frequently handle and finger with the right hand. Id. She could perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks with incidental interpersonal contact where the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.

         The ALJ found, based on Ms. Jones’s RFC, that she was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (Tr. at 24) At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find, based on Ms. Jones’s age, education, work experience and RFC, that she was capable of performing work in the national economy as office helper, fast food worker, machine tender or label cutter, and telephone quotation clerk. (Tr. at 28) Based on the determination, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Jones was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         In this appeal, the Court must review the Commissioner’s decision for legal error and assure that the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Brown v. Colvin, 825 F.3d 936, 939 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010)). Stated another way, the decision must rest on enough evidence that “a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support [the] conclusion.” Halverson, 600 F.3d at 929. The Court will not reverse the decision, however, solely because there is evidence to support a conclusion different from that reached by the Commissioner. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).

         B. Ms. Jones’s Arguments on Appeal

         Ms. Jones maintains that the ALJ’s decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. She argues that: 1) the ALJ failed to consider her impairments in combination; 2) the ALJ failed to properly analyze her subjective complaints; and 3) the RFC by the ALJ did not incorporate all of her limitations. After reviewing the record as a whole, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err in denying benefits.

         The record reflects generally mild objective findings, conservative care, and positive response to medications over time. With respect to Ms. Jones’s back condition, an MRI of the lumbar spine in February 2015 showed degenerative spondylosis with disc herniation, but without abutment of the nerve root. (Tr. at 434) Ms. Jones told her provider that medication had improved her activity levels and quality of life, with no side effects. (Tr. at 443, 444) Impairments that are controllable or amenable to treatment do not support a finding of total disability. Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2000). She said she could perform activities of ...

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