White v. Social Security Administration Commissioner, No. 4:2019cv04063 - Document 15 (W.D. Ark. 2020)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on March 25, 2020. (mll)
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White v. Social Security Administration Commissioner Doc. 15 IN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS TEXARKANA DIVISION ROCHELLE R. WHITE vs. PLAINTIFF Civil No. 4:19-cv-04063 ANDREW SAUL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT MEMORANDUM OPINION Rochelle White, (“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. 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: Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 258-269). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to thyroid issues, arthritis, breathing problems, and 1 References to the Transcript will be (Tr. ___) and refer to the document filed at ECF No. 11. These references are to the page number of the transcript itself not the ECF page number. 1 Dockets.Justia.com problems standing. (Tr. 283). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of December 31, 2015. (Tr. 107). Her applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 133-180). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications. (Tr. 198-200). This hearing request was granted and Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on February 7, 2018. (Tr. 103-132). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Lenora Maatouck testified at the hearing. Id. Following the hearing on August 15, 2018, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 75-84). In this decision, the ALJ determined met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2018. (Tr. 77, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since December 31, 2015. (Tr. 77, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypertension, cervical radiculopathy, major depressive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 77, 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. 78, Finding 4). In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 79-82, Finding 5). 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 light work and limited to performing simple, routine tasks and making simply work-related decisions. Id. 2 The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 82, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a bakery grader, poultry line worker and bench assembler. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from December 31, 2015, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 84, Finding 7). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council’s review of the ALJ’s decision. (12-16). The Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On March 20, 2019, 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: 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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently 3 engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003). 3. Discussion: Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred (1) in failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing, and (2) in failing to properly determine Plaintiff’s RFC. ECF No. 13, Pgs. 3-19. In response, Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 14. This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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 4 in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, 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. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). The Court has reviewed the entire transcript and the parties’ briefs. For the reasons stated in the ALJ’s well-reasoned opinion and in the Government’s brief, the Court finds Plaintiff’s arguments on appeal to be without merit and finds the record as a whole reflects substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision. Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision is hereby affirmed and Plaintiff’s Complaint is dismissed with prejudice. See Sledge v. Astrue, 364 Fed. Appx. 307 (8th Cir. 2010)(district court summarily affirmed the ALJ). 4. Conclusion: Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits to Plaintiff, is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58. ENTERED this 25th day of March 2020. Barry A. Bryant /s/ HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE 5