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Richardson v. Berryhill

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

March 2, 2017

BEN LEE RICHARDSON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration[1]DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Ben Lee Richardson, 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”) benefits 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 23, 2012. (ECF No. 16, p. 56). In his applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to ulcerative colitis, cervical mild facial parousia, severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and asthma. (ECF No. 16, pp. 14, 296). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of August 17, 2012. (ECF No. 16, pp. 56, 292). Those applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 16, pp. 112-95).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 16, p. 215). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 2, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 16, p. 77-111). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Susan Brockett. Id. Plaintiff, Plaintiff's sister Jennasue Grandpre, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Sarah Moore testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-eight (48) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(c). (ECF No. 16, p. 80). As for his level of education, Plaintiff completed the tenth grade and later earned a GED. Id.

         After this hearing, on June 2, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 16, pp. 53-70). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017. (ECF No. 16, p. 58, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since August 17, 2012, his alleged onset date. (ECF No. 16, p. 58, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: ulcerative colitis, obstructive sleep apnea, disorder of the cervical spine status post-surgery, obesity, major depression, and a personality disorder with Cluster C traits. (ECF No. 16, p. 58, 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. 16, pp. 59-60, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 16, pp. 60-68, 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) except [Plaintiff] can perform work limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, involving only simple, work-related decisions with few, if any workplace changes and no more than incidental contact with co-workers, supervisors and the general public.

Id.

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was unable to perform his Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 16, p. 68, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (ECF No. 16, pp. 108-11). 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 machine tender and as an inspector. (ECF No. 16, 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 August 17, 2012, through June 2, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 16, p. 69, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on June 16, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 16, pp. 51-52). The Appeals Council denied this request on September 8, 2015. (ECF No. 16, pp. 6-10). On October 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 23, 2015. (ECF No. 11). 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 his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him 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 techniques.” 42 ...


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