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Matthews v. Saul

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

October 22, 2019

DEBRA MATTHEWS PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner Social Security Administration[1] DEFENDANT

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         This Recommended Disposition (Recommendation) has been sent to Judge Brian S. Miller. Either party may file written objections to this 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 Miller can adopt this Recommendation without independently reviewing the record. By not objecting, parties may also waive the right to appeal questions of fact.

         I. Introduction:

         On November 1, 2016, Debra Matthews applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning October 1, 2016. (Tr. at 15) Her claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Dr. Matthews's application. (Tr. at 26) She requested that the Appeals Council 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. Dr. Matthews filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits.

         For the reasons explained below, the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Dr. Matthews had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of October 1, 2016. (Tr. at 17) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Dr. Matthews had the following severe impairments: spine disorders, fracture of bones, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. at 18)

         After finding that Dr. Matthews's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 19), the ALJ determined that Dr. Matthews had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, with some additional limitations. (Tr. at 21) She could only occasionally stoop and crouch. Id. She could frequently handle, finger, and feel bilaterally. Id. She must avoid hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. Id.

         The ALJ found, based on that RFC and the testimony from the Vocational Expert (VE), that Dr. Matthews could perform her past work as a telecommunicator supervisor.[2](Tr. at 25) Thus, the ALJ determined that Dr. Matthews 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 Commissioner's] 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. Dr. Matthews's Arguments on Appeal

         Dr. Matthews maintains that the evidence supporting the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is less than substantial. She argues that the ALJ should have found her mental impairments to be severe at step two; that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to treating and examining source medical opinions; that the ALJ should have further developed the record; and that she could not perform her past relevant work. Dr. Matthews's medical records include evidence of mental ...


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