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Williams v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Christopher Williams, 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 his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on August 29, 2012. (ECF No. 11, p. 55). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to the inability to move his thumbs, the inability to lift more than twenty pounds, and a learning disability. (ECF No. 11, p. 290). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of July 26, 2010. (ECF No. 11, pp. 55, 286). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 11, pp. 177-83, 185-89).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 11, p. 192). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 24, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 11, pp. 75-100). Plaintiff was present and was represented by John Willems. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Larry Syfert testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-seven (27) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). (ECF No. 11, p. 78). As for his level of education, Plaintiff earned a high school diploma. Id.

         After this hearing, on April 16, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 11, pp. 52-70). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2015. (ECF No. 11, p. 57, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 26, 2010, his alleged onset date. (ECF No. 11, p. 57, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, depression, and non-dominant hand and thumb pain. (ECF No. 11, pp. 57-59, 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. 11, pp. 59-61, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 11, pp. 61-68, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his 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) and 416.967(b) with the following restrictions: He is able to perform occasional fingering, handling, and operating hand controls with his non-dominant upper extremity. He would be restricted to simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed. He is able to work under simple, direct and concrete supervision.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was unable to perform his Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 11, p. 68, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding these issues. (ECF No. 11, pp. 93-100). 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 conveyor line bakery worker, a blending tank tender, and a laminating machine grader. (ECF No. 11, pp. 68-69, 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 July 26, 2010, through April 16, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 11, p. 69, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on June 11, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 11, pp. 50-51). The Appeals Council denied this request on August 5, 2015. (ECF No. 11, pp. 5-9). On October 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 29, 2015. (ECF No. 6). This case is now ready for decision.

         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), 1382c(a)(3)(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 techniques.” ...

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