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Cooper v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

March 8, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Amy Cooper, 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”), disabled widow's benefits (“DWB”), 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 her application for SSI on October 30, 2012, and her applications for DIB and DWB on December 5, 2012. (ECF No. 11, p. 103). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”), diverticulitis, torn rotator cuff of the dominant right shoulder, bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome, bilateral knee injuries requiring surgery, bilateral hip and feet problems, and general numbness and tingling. (ECF No. 11, p. 308). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of September 23, 2012. (ECF No. 1, pp. 103, 304). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 8, pp. 103, 162-204).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 11, p. 223). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 12, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 11, pp. 123-161). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Frederick Spencer. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Sara Moore testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old, which is defined as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). (ECF No. 11, pp. 123, 304). As for her level of education, Plaintiff has a high school diploma. Id. at 130.

         After this hearing, on July 30, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB, DWB, and SSI. (ECF No. 11, pp. 100-17). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2008. (ECF No. 11, p. 106, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff met the non-disability requirements of the Act for DWB. (ECF No. 11, p. 106, Finding 2). The ALJ found the prescribed period ended on November 30, 2013. (ECF No. 11, p. 106, Finding 3). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 23, 2012, her alleged onset date. (ECF No. 11, p. 106, Finding 4). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, right shoulder impingement, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, knee pain, hip pain, feet pain, and obesity. (ECF No. 11, pp. 106-08, Finding 5). 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. 108-09, Finding 6).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 11, pp. 109-15, Finding 7). 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) and 416.967(b) except [Plaintiff] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; [Plaintiff] can occasionally reach overhead with her right upper extremity; [Plaintiff] can handle and finger on a bilateral basis frequently; and [Plaintiff] is limited to jobs that can be performed while using a hand held assistive device for prolonged ambulation.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was able to perform her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) as a bar and grill manager and liquor store owner. (ECF No. 11, pp. 115-16, Finding 8). The ALJ subsequently determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from September 23, 2012, through July 30, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 11, p. 116, Finding 9).

         Thereafter, on August 7, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 11, p. 99). The Appeals Council denied this request on October 29, 2015. (ECF No. 11, pp. 5-10). On December 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on December 15, 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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