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Arford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

March 7, 2018

APRIL ARFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff April Arford brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Arford's severe physical and mental impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Arford filed applications for DIB and SSI on November 14, 2013, claiming that she became unable to work on June 15, 2010, because of polyneuropathy, muscle deterioration and nerve damage, neck pain, hypertension, and depression. (Tr. 10, 290.) Arford was 32 years of age at the time she filed her applications. Id. Her claims were denied initially. (Tr. 160-66.) Following an administrative hearing, Arford's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated November 19, 2015. (Tr. 10-23.) Arford then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on September 13, 2016. (Tr. 5, 1-4.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Arford first argues that “[s]ubstantial evidence on the record as a whole does not support the ALJ's finding that Arford can perform a wide range of light work.” (Doc. 15 at 10.) She next claims that the ALJ “impermissibly drew his own inferences from the medical evidence.” Id. at 13.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first noted that Arford had previously applied for disability benefits, and these applications were denied on December 11, 2012. (Tr. 10, 153-55.) The ALJ found no basis to reopen any of these prior applications. (Tr. 10.) He next found that Arford met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013, and did not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 15, 2010, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 12.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Arford had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the lumbar spine, status post fusion surgery at level L4-L5 in 2004; polyneuropathy; obesity; and depression. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ found that Arford did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. Id.

         As to Arford's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as that term is defined in 20CFR404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) and SSR 83-10, except that the following nonexertional limitations reduce the claimant's capacity for light work; only occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds or stoop; and limited to jobs that involve understanding, remembering, and carrying out only simple instructions, and that involve no more than occasional contact with the public.

(Tr. 15.)

         The ALJ found that Arford's allegations regarding the extent of her limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 16.) In determining Arford's RFC, the ALJ indicated that he was assigning “some weight” to the opinions of consultative psychologist Hester B. Samuel, and neurosurgeon Kee B. Park; and “substantial weight” to the opinions of State agency medical consultants. (Tr. 20-21.)

         The ALJ further found that Arford was unable to perform past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy, such as hospital products assembler, bindery machine feeder, and final inspector. (Tr. 22-23.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Arford was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 15, 2010 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 23.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on November 14, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Based on the application for supplemental security income protectively filed on November 14, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Id.

         III. Applicable Law

         III.A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation ...


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