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Livsey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

September 26, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Christopher James Livsey (“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 decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI 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:

         On August 11, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed his application. (Tr. 253). In his application, Plaintiff alleges he was disabled due to flattened and compressed spine in neck, depression, scoliosis, and 30% of use in left hand with an alleged onset date of January 31, 2014. (Tr. 282, 286). The claim was denied initially on September 22, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on January 14, 2015. (Tr. 187, 193).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 200). An administrative hearing was held on May 26, 2016, in Texarkana, Arkansas with the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) holding the hearing remotely from McAlester, Oklahoma. (Tr. 95). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by a non-attorney representative, Stanley Brummal. (Tr. 93-128). Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Melissa Brassfield testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff testified his highest level of education was a high school diploma. (Tr. 99).

         On August 17, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 45-51). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 47, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 31, 2014, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 47, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: left shoulder sprain, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, thoracic outlet syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, status-post discectomy and fusion, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 47-48, Finding 3). The ALJ, however, 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. 48, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 49-52, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(b) with only occasional pushing, pulling, and overhead reaching with his left arm; is limited to unskilled work (where tasks are no more complex than those learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgement); his supervision must be simple, direct and concrete and non-critical; interpersonal contact with supervisors and co-workers must be incidental to the work performed, e.g., assembly work; he must have normal, regular work breaks and only occasional workplace changes. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined he was incapable of performing any of his past relevant work. (Tr. 52, Finding 6). The ALJ did, however, determine Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, specifically that of a conveyor line bakery worker or a bottling attendant. (Tr. 52-53, Finding 10). The ALJ found Plaintiff was 35 years old, which is defined as a younger individual under the Act. (Tr. 52, Finding 7). The ALJ concluded Plaintiff had not been under disability under the Act from January 31, 2014, through the date of his decision. (Tr. 53, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable disability determination. (Tr. 1, 250). On March 17, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's disability determination. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff filed the present appeal on September 14, 2017. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 15, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 14. 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) (2006); 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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