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Elizabeth Bridges Band v. Saul

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

October 25, 2019

ELIZABETH BRIDGES BAND, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS

          JOE J. VOLPE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Billy Roy Wilson. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.

         RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

         Plaintiff, Elizabeth Band, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is now ready for a decision.

         A court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff was forty-one at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 36.) She is a college graduate, (Tr. Id.) and has past relevant work as an elementary school teacher. (Tr. 25.) The Administrative Law Judge[2] (ALJ) found Ms. Band has “severe” degenerative disc disease, (Tr. 17), but did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18.)

         The ALJ determined Ms. Band had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a slightly reduced range of sedentary work. (Id.) Given this RFC, the ALJ determined Ms. Band is no longer able to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 25.) Therefore, the ALJ employed the services of a vocational expert to determine whether jobs existed that Ms. Band could perform despite her impairments. (Tr. 43-46.) Based in part on the vocational expert testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing the jobs of document preparer and surveillance system monitor. (Tr. 26.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Ms. Band was not disabled. (Tr. 26-27.)

         In support of her Complaint, Ms. Band argues that the ALJ erred in three ways by: 1) finding no “severe” mental impairment; 2) determining she did not meet listing 1.04A; and 3) failing to give adequate weight to the opinion of her treating physician, Rebecca Barrett-Tuck, M.D. (Doc. No. 10 at 6-18.)

         Plaintiff says, “. . . it is evident that the ALJ's cursory dismissal of Ms. Band's mental impairments as ‘non-severe' is contrary to the weight of the evidence.” (Id. at 9.) I disagree with Plaintiff's assertion that the ALJ's analysis was “cursory.” The ALJ gave fair attention to this issue and stated:

Physical exams on May 19, 2017 and December 29, 2017 revealed that the claimant had a normal mood and affect. Her behavior, judgment, and thought content were normal. However, she was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD), for which she was prescribed Diazepam (Valium) 10 mg. The claimant's physical exam revealed the same results on March 2, 2018, but it does not appear that she was prescribed any medication for the anxiety. Furthermore, the undersigned concludes that any symptoms the claimant may experience related to this impairment are situational and not medically determined. Therefore, based on the medical evidence of record, the undersigned finds that the claimant's GAD does not significantly limit her ability to engage in work related activities. Thus, it is a non-severe impairment under the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1521.

(Tr. 18 (citations omitted).)

         A “severe” impairment is one that significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997); Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 821 (8th Cir. 1992); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c) (2007). It has “more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to work.” Hudson v. Bowen, 870 F.2d at 1396; accord, Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007); Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007).

(a) Non-severe impairment(s). An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ...

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