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Sikes v. Saul

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

November 1, 2019

SHELLY D. SIKES PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Shelly D. Sikes (“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 Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2009), the Honorable P. K. Holmes, III referred this case to this Court for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. In accordance with that referral, and after reviewing the arguments in this case, this Court recommends Plaintiff's case be REVERSED AND REMANDED.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her disability applications on August 20, 2015. (Tr. 19).[1] Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to osteoarthritis, COPD, back problems, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 105, 323). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 19).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 190). Plaintiff had an initial administrative hearing on June 13, 2016 and a supplemental hearing on May 8, 2017. (Tr. 41-74, 75-128). Plaintiff was present for both hearings, but was only represented by counsel at the initial hearing. Id.

         On January 24, 2018, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for disability. (Tr. 19-33). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status of the Act through December 31, 2019. (Tr. 21, Finding1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2015, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 21, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative changes of her cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, dorsalgia, mild osteoarthritis of her bilateral knees, fibromyalgia/polyarticular joint pain, diabetes mellitus, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). (Tr. 21-22, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 24, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 25-31). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a limited range of sedentary work. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 32, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a receptionist and data entry clerk. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from January 1, 2015, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 32, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 268-269). On September 18, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5). On November 14, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 16, 17. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a “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. §§ ...


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