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Ashley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

February 14, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Christina Ashley (“Plaintiff”) 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 a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles 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. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her disability application for DIB on September 25, 2013 and for SSI on October 15, 2013. (Tr. 13, 183-191). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to arthritis, back, hip, and feet pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver mass, migraines, and one kidney functioning at 50 percent with the other removed due to kidney cancer. (Tr. 225). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of July 26, 2013. (Tr. 13, 183, 186). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 128-134).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 141-142). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on November 7, 2014. (Tr. 26-78). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Michael Hamby. Plaintiff, her ex-husband Gregory White, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim Spragins testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was sixty (60) years old and had completed one year of college. (Tr. 32).

         After this hearing, on May 8, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 13-20). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018. (Tr. 15, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 26, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 15, Finding 2).

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, mild bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, hypertension, diabetes mellitus II, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis of the bilateral hips and shoulders, hyperparathyroidism, obesity, and a history of right nephrectomy. (Tr. 15, 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 Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 16, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 17, 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 sedentary work only occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, and frequent (not constant) handling and fingering bilaterally. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 20, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW as a medical clerk. Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW, the ALJ determined she had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from July 26, 2013 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 20, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, on March 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF No. 5. This case is now ready for decision.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).

         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. See Haley v. Massanari,258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions ...

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