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Strother v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

October 16, 2019




         Tammy Elizabeth Strother (“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 her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability 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. 5.[1] 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 her disability application on May 1, 2016. (Tr. 15). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, facet joint disease, fibromyalgia, fatty liver, atrial fibrillation, osteoarthritis, type II diabetes, depression, and a herniated disc at ¶ 5-S1 (nerve impingement). (Tr. 246). Plaintiff originally alleged an onset date of September 3, 2011 but that date was later amended to November 5, 2014. (Tr. 15). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 107-134).

         After Plaintiff's application was denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on this application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 69-106). On October 17, 2017, the SSA held an administrative hearing in Little Rock, Arkansas. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Shannon Muse Carroll. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Dianne G. Smith testified at this hearing. Id.

         On May 23, 2018, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 12-31). The ALJ determined Plaintiff last met the insured status of the Act on December 31, 2015. (Tr. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) during the period from her amended alleged onset date of November 6, 2014 through her date last insured of December 31, 2015. (Tr. 18, Finding 2). The ALJ determined that, through her date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, fibromyalgia, and obesity. (Tr. 18-19, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 19-24, Finding 5). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the following RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform less than a full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She could sit for 6 hours and stand/walk for 6 hours. She could push/pull as much as she can lift and carry. She can occasionally reach overhead to the right. She can frequently handle, finger, and feel items with both hands. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, kneel, crouch, stoop, and crawl. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Finally, the claimant can never work at unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts.


         The ALJ found Plaintiff was born on July 7, 1971 and was forty-four (44) years old on her date last insured. (Tr. 25, Finding 7). Such a person is defined as a “younger individual” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008). Id. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had a limited education but was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 25, Finding 8).

         The ALJ evaluated her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform her PRW. (Tr. 24, Finding 6). The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 25-26, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing on this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following occupations: (1) press operator (light, unskilled) with 30, 000 such jobs nationwide; (2) sub-assembler (light, unskilled) with 10, 400 such jobs nationwide; (3) call out clerk (sedentary, unskilled) with 8, 200 such jobs nationwide; and (4) document preparer (sedentary, unskilled) with 45, 000 such jobs nationwide. Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this other work, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from November 6, 2014 (amended alleged onset date) through December 31, 2015 (Plaintiff's date last insured). (Tr. 26, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ unfavorable disability determination. On October 17, 2018, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's disability determination. (Tr. 1-6). On November 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 19, 2018. ECF No. 5. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Ap ...

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