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Tucker v. Berryhill

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

August 2, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Earnest Tucker (“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 his applications for a period of disability, 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 Susan O. Hickey 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.


         Plaintiff protectively filed his disability applications on February 25, 2016. (Tr. 10).[1] In his applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to back problems, high blood pressure, and a “blurry left eye.” (Tr. 245). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of January 10, 2015. (Tr. 10). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 71-122). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 29-70, 139-140). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on December 6, 2017 in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 29-70). After this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Randolph Baltz. Id. Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified at this hearing. Id.

         On February 15, 2018, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's disability applications. (Tr. 7-18). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2016. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 10, 2015, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 12, Finding 2). The ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: moderate spondylosis cervical spine, minimal degenerative changes, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, 20/200 vision in right eye, and amblyopia. (Tr. 12-13, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined those 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. 13, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 13-16, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except with no objects coming at the claimant from the right side.

Id. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old, which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(e) (2008) and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e) (2008). (Tr. 17, Finding 7). As for his education, Plaintiff testified he had a limited education and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 17, Finding 8).

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 17, Finding 6). Based upon his work experience and his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ also considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC. (Tr. 17-18, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Considering this testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform representative occupations such as linen room attendant (11, 000 such jobs nationally); dry cleaner helper (15, 000 such jobs nationally); and laundry worker (15, 000 such jobs nationally). Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this other work, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from January 10, 2015 through the date of his decision or through February 15, 2018. (Tr. 18, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's decision. On August 14, 2018, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-3). On September 24, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11-12. 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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