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Morrisett v. Saul

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

November 5, 2019

MARLA MORRISETT, PLAINTIFF
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Marla Morrisett has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB), based on disability.[1] Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision.[2] The only issue before the Court is whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. After reviewing the administrative record and the argument of the parties, the Court finds the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Background

         Mrs. Morrisett protectively filed for DIB on May 20, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2015. (Tr. 11, 131, 242) She claims disability due to: plantar fasciitis, degeneration of intervertebral disc of cervical region, chronic pain, arthritis, neck pain, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, muscle spasms, headaches, low back pain, shortness of breath, solitary thyroid nodule right lower, abnormal chest, right thyroid, bilateral low back pain, non-morbid obesity, degeneration of lumbar, acid reflux disease, narrowing of spinal canal, left hip pain, and chronic pain of left knee. (Tr. 133, 293) Plaintiff's claim was denied at the initial and reconsideration levels. A hearing was held on February 22, 2018, before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).[3] The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Plaintiff's claim on April 18, 2018. (Tr. 8-23) The Appeals Council subsequently denied the request for review. (Tr. 1-3) It is from this decision that Plaintiff now brings her appeal.

         II. Administrative Proceedings

         Plaintiff was forty-three (43) years old at the time of the administrative hearing and had past relevant work as a material handler. (Tr. 106-7) The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process[4] to Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff satisfied the first step because she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date April 1, 2015. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments[5]: cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the left hip and knee, peripheral neuropathy, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, and obesity, but at step three, he found none of these impairments met or equaled a listing. (Tr. 13-14) Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity[6] (RFC) to perform unskilled, sedentary work, [7] with restrictions: (1) lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk two hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; (4) push and/or pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; (5) use an assistive device when walking and/or standing; (6) reach frequently overhead with the right arm and occasionally with the left; and (7) sit/stand option that involves standing or walking in intervals of 10 minutes and sitting in intervals of 30 minutes. (Tr. 14)

         The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 22) Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found other work existing in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as document preparer and call out operator. (Tr. 23) Accordingly, the ALJ found Petitioner was not disabled. (Id.)

         III. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ's decision that she is not disabled because she can perform other work in the economy is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. (Plaintiff's Brief, Doc. No. 14, p. 17) Specifically, Plaintiff contends the ALJ (1) improperly discredited the opinion of Clarence Kemp, M.D., her treating physician, and (2) failed to consider her limited daily activities and long work record when assessing her credibility. (Id. at 17-30)

         IV. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence” in this context is less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Id. (citation omitted) The Court does not “reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, ” Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Bates v. Chater, 54 F.3d 529, 532 (8th Cir. 1995)), or “review the factual record de novo.” Roe v. Chater, 92 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 188 (8th Cir. 1994)). Instead, if, after reviewing the evidence, the Court finds it “possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, [the Court] must affirm the [Commissioner's] denial of benefits.” Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533, 536 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008)). This is true even in cases where the Court “might have weighed the evidence differently.” Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 1992)). The Court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision. Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)); see Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2005)(“[A]n administrative decision is not subject to reversal simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.”).

         B. Arguments on Appeal

         Plaintiff contends the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. (Plaintiff's Brief, Doc. No. 14, pp. 15-17) Specifically, Plaintiff avers the ALJ reached his decision she could perform a wide range of sedentary work by discounting the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Kemp, and instead relying on the opinions of state agency doctors who did not actually examine her but just reviewed some of her medical records. She also argues the ALJ failed to consider her limited daily activities and long work record when assessing her credibility. (Id. at pp. 17-30)

         1. RFC and Dr. ...


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