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Jarrell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 17, 2018

TARA JARRELL
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

         SECTION: “J” (5)

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MICHAEL B. NORTH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Local Rule 73.2(B), this matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment following a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits based upon disability. (Rec. docs. 16, 17).

         Tara Jarrell, Plaintiff herein, filed the subject applications for DIB and SSI benefits in June of 2014, alleging disability as of January 14, 2014. [1](Tr. pp. 117-123). In a “Disability Report - Adult” form that appears in the administrative record below, the condition limiting Plaintiff's ability to work was identified as neuropathy. (Tr. p. 158). Plaintiff's applications for Social Security benefits were denied at the initial level of the Commissioner's administrative review process on April 9, 2015. (Tr. pp. 54-60, 61-67, 68, 69, 73-77). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) went forward on July 12, 2016 at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) appeared and testified. (Tr. pp. 82-83, 84-86, 26-53). On August 18, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in which she concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. pp. 8-25). The Appeals Council (“AC”) subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on April 7, 2017, thus making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. pp. 1-4). It is from that unfavorable decision that the Plaintiff seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         In her cross-motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff frames the issues for judicial review as follows:

I. THE COMMISSIONER DID NOT APPLY THE CORRECT LEGAL STANDARD WHEN ASSESSING PLAINTIFF'S RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY AND THAT FINDING IS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.
II. THE COMMISSIONER ERRED BY FAILING TO APPLY THE PROPER LEGAL STANDARD TO DETERMINE PLAINTIFF'S CREDIBILITY REGARDING PAIN AND OTHER SYMPTOMS.

(Rec. doc. 16-2, p. 5).

         Relevant to the issues to be decided by the Court are the following findings that were made by the ALJ:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 14, 2014, the alleged onset (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: peripheral neuropathy (bilateral lower extremities); obesity; affective disorder (depressive disorder with psychotic features); and anxiety-related disorder (history of post-traumatic stress disorder)(20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can occasionally climb ramps or stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl but should avoid concentrated exposure to uneven terrain. In addition, she would be limited to the performance of work tasks that are simple, routine and repetitive.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on April 17, 1977 and was 36 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 14, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny DIB or SSI benefits is limited under 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to two inquiries: (1) whether substantial evidence of record supports the Commissioner's decision and (2) whether the decision comports with relevant legal standards. Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 1992); Villa v. Sullivan, 895 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1990); Fraga v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1296, 1302 (5th Cir. 1987). If the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive and must be affirmed. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420 (1970). A finding of no substantial evidence is appropriate only if no credible evidentiary choices or medical findings exist to support the Commissioner's decision. Johnson v. Bowen, 864 F.2d 340, 343-44 (5th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, less than a preponderance, and is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 702 F.2d 616, 620 (5th Cir. 1983). The Court may not reweigh the evidence or try the issues de novo, nor may it substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 392 (5th Cir. 1985). Conflicts in the evidence are for the Commissioner to resolve, not the courts. Patton v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 590, 592 (5th Cir. 1983).

         A claimant seeking DIB or SSI benefits bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Harrell v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 471, 475 (5th Cir. 1988). Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which...has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). Once the claimant carries her initial burden, the Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is capable of performing substantial gainful activity and is, therefore, not disabled. Harrell, 862 F.2d at 475. In making this determination, the Commissioner uses the five-step sequential analysis set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520 and 416.920, as follows:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be disabled regardless of the medical findings;
2. An individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be disabled;
3. An individual who meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of the Regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors;
4. If an individual is capable of performing the work that she has done in the past, a finding of “not disabled” must be made; and,
5. If an individual's impairment precludes her from performing her past work, other factors, including age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity, must be considered to determine if other work can be performed.

         On the first four steps of the analysis, the claimant bears the initial burden of proving that she is disabled and must ultimately demonstrate that she is unable to perform the work that she has done in the past. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2294 n. 5 (1987). If the analysis reaches the fifth step, the ALJ may establish that other work is available that the claimant can perform by relying on expert vocational testimony or other similar evidence to establish that such jobs exist. Fraga, 810 F.2d at 1304 (citing Lawler v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 195, 198 (5th Cir. 1985)). Once the Commissioner demonstrates that the ...


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