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Beals v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

February 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration[1]DEFENDANT



         Plaintiff, Sherri Francis Beals, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) benefits under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). In this judicial review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Procedural Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on March 4, 2014. (ECF No. 8, p. 76). In her application, Plaintiff alleges disability due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), gastric bleeds, arthritis, obesity, depression, skin cancer of the left ear, face, arm, and back, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. (ECF No. 8, p. 190). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of December 28, 2012. (ECF No. 8, pp. 76, 186). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 8, pp. 43-71).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 8, pp. 95, 109). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on June 19, 2015, in Little Rock, Arkansas (ECF No. 8, pp. 14-42). Plaintiff was present via teleconference and was represented by Donald Pullen. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) William David Elmore testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-six (56) years old, which is defined as a “person of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. 404.1563(e). (ECF No. 15, p. 59). As for her level of education, Plaintiff earned a GED. Id.

         After this hearing, on August 28, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (ECF No. 8, pp. 73-85). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2016. (ECF No. 8, p. 78, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since December 28, 2012, her alleged onset date. (ECF No. 8, p. 78, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bilateral knee surgery, hypertension, and COPD. (ECF No. 8, pp. 78-79, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404 (“Listings”). (ECF No. 8, pp. 79-80, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 8, pp. 80-83, 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 as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except she is able to perform work that involves occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, and bending, but no crouching, kneeling, or crawling. Additionally, she must avoid work that involves exposure to excessive chemicals, noise, humidity, dust, fumes, temperature extremes, vibrations, gases, or other pulmonary irritants.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was unable to perform her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 8, pp. 83-84, Finding 6). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had acquired transferrable skills from her PRW. (ECF No. 8, p. 84, Finding 9). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding these issues. (ECF No. 8, pp. 36-41). Based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform, such as a shipping order clerk and a general office clerk. (ECF No. 8, pp. 84-85, Finding 10). Because jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff can perform, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from December 28, 2012, through August 28, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 8, p. 85, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on September 10, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 8, pp. 12-13). The Appeals Council denied this request on December 16, 2015. (ECF No. 8, pp. 5-10). On February 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on February 12, 2016. (ECF No. 5). This case is now ready for decision.[2]

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). 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. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). 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, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); See also 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Act defines “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 ...

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