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Nestlehut v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

July 11, 2014

JEANIE LINN NESTLEHUT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

J. LEON HOLMES, District Judge.

Jeanie Linn Nestlehut seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The magistrate judge recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. After conducting a de novo review, the Court agrees with the magistrate judge's recommendation that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed but not with all of the magistrate judge's reasoning. The following opinion incorporates much but not all of the magistrate judge's report.

OPINION

Nestlehut has worked for her husband's insurance business since 2003.[1] Initially, she worked as a full-time office manager, but the business grew, the husband hired additional employees, and Nestlehut cut back her hours. She now works part-time as the bookkeeper, [2] but claims that she cannot work full-time due to fibromyalgia and pain in her neck, back, and right elbow.[3]

THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

After considering the application, the Commissioner's ALJ determined that Nestlehut has severe impairments - degenerative disc disease and fibromyalgia[4] - but that she can perform sedentary work with restrictions on driving, working at heights, and working near dangerous machinery.[5] Because a vocational expert classified Nestlehut's current job as sedentary work, [6] the ALJ determined that Nestlehut is not disabled and denied the application.[7]

After the Commissioner's Appeals Council denied a request for review, [8] the decision became a final decision for judicial review.[9] Nestlehut commenced this action to appeal the decision.[10] In reviewing the decision, the court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal error.[11]

NESTLEHUT'S ALLEGATIONS

Nestlehut complains because her case was not reviewed by a psychiatrist or psychologist. She contends that the ALJ should have developed the record by ordering a consultative mental evaluation and completing a psychiatric review technique (PRT). She challenges the ALJ's reliance on the agency medical consultant's opinion because the medical consultant did not review subsequent medical records and because the consultant's specialty does not relate to Nestlehut's impairments. She challenges the ALJ's reliance on her part-time work, arguing that she should not be penalized for working because her husband allows her to work at her convenience. She insists that she cannot do sedentary work on a full-time basis. For these reasons, she maintains that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision.[12]

APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

Substantial evidence is evidence sufficient to show a reasonable mind that the findings of the ALJ are correct.[13] The ALJ found that Nestlehut can perform sedentary work with restrictions to avoid danger due to drowsiness. "Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools."[14] Sedentary work "represents a significantly restricted range of work. Individuals who are limited to no more than sedentary work by their medical impairments have very serious functional limitations."[15] In determining Nestlehut's residual functional capacity, the ALJ imposed additional limitations beyond the definition of "sedentary work" by eliminating work at unprotected heights, work near moving or dangerous machinery, and driving a vehicle.[16] The question before the court is whether a reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to show that Nestlehut can work within these parameters.

CREDIBILITY

Nestlehut claims that she experiences constant, disabling pain such that she cannot work full-time. Her claim turns on her credibility because no medical professional has opined that she has such serious functional limitations. The ALJ evaluated Nestlehut's credibility using the required two-step process and the required factors, [17] so the dispositive ...


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