Strother v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on September 8, 2021. (jlm)
IN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
Civil No. 6:20-cv-06125
Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Tammy Strother, 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 applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title 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. 6.
Pursuant to this authority, the Court
issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI.
(Tr. 680) 1 .
applications, Plaintiff alleged being disabled due to degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, facet joint
disease, fibromyalgia, fatty liver, atrial fibrillation, osteoarthritis, diabetes type II, depression, and
herniated disc L5-S1 nerve impingement. (Tr. 246). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of September
1 References to the Transcript will be (Tr. ___) and refer to the document filed at ECF No. 15, These references are
to the page number of the transcript itself not the ECF page number.
3, 2011, which was later amended to November 5, 2014. (Tr. 680). Plaintiff’s applications were
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id.
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing
request was granted. (Tr. 143-194). Following this administrative hearing, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. (Tr. 753-764). The Appeals Council denied review and Plaintiff appealed
to District Court. (Tr. 770-775). Pursuant to the District Court’s remand order, the Appeals
Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (Tr. 833-841, 844).
On May 27, 2020, Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on her denied applications. (Tr.
706-749). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present, and represented by Shannon Muse Carroll. Id.
Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth Clem testified at the hearing. Id.
Following the administrative hearing, on August 28, 2020, the ALJ entered an unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 680-692). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status of the
Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 682, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since November 5, 2014. (Tr. 682, Finding 2).
The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of multilevel degenerative
disc disease, osteoarthritis of the hip, status-post left ankle repair, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus
with polyneuropathy, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 682-683, 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 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listings”). (Tr. 683,
The ALJ considered Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 685690). The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were
not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. Id. The ALJ
also determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work except cannot climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds; cannot perform duties that require foot controls, but can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can perform simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks with supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete, and reasoning levels not to
exceed level three. Id.
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 690, Finding 6).
The ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. However, the ALJ found
there were jobs in the significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
(Tr. 691, Finding 10). With the help of the VE, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the
representative occupations of (1) inspector with approximately 200,000 jobs in the nation and (2)
machine tender with approximately 160,000 jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been disabled at any time from November 5, 2014, through the
date of the decision. (Tr. 691, Finding 11).
On October 29, 2020, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have
filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 17, 18. This case is now ready for decision.
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
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).
Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred (1) in determining Plaintiff’s
RFC and (2) in failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing. ECF No. 17, Pgs. 3-18. In response,
Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 18.
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
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 summarily
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).
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
ENTERED this 8th day of September 2021.
Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?