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Howell v. Berryhill

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

March 16, 2017

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



         Plaintiff, Rhonda Howell, 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 supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Title 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 May 20, 2013. (ECF No. 11, p. 25, 198). In her application, Plaintiff alleges disability due to depression, arthritis, migraines, anxiety, and Grave's Disease. (ECF No. 11, p. 202). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of August 20, 2008. (ECF No. 11, pp. 25, 198). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 11, pp. 71-99).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 11, p. 118). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on June 3, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 11, pp. 54-70). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Nicholas Coleman. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim Spragens testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-nine (49) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(d). (ECF No. 11, p. 59). As for her level of education, Plaintiff completed the eighth grade. Id. at 59.

         After this hearing, on November 5, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (ECF No. 11, pp. 22-37). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since May 20, 2013, her application date. (ECF No. 11, p. 27, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arthritis, migraines, anxiety disorder NOS, depressive disorder NOS, and polysubstance dependence in full-sustained remission. (ECF No. 11, p. 27, Finding 2). 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. 27-29, Finding 3).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 11, pp. 29-35, Finding 4). 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. 416.967(b) except [Plaintiff] is able to perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment. Supervision required is simple, direct and concrete.


         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was able to perform her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) as a poultry sorter as generally performed. (ECF No. 11, pp. 35-36, Finding 5). The ALJ also determined, in the alternative, that Plaintiff could perform the requirements of representative jobs such as a price marker and poultry production. (ECF No. 11, p. 36, Finding 5). The ALJ subsequently determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from May 20, 2013, through November 5, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 11, p. 37, Finding 6).

         Thereafter, on January 8, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 11, pp. 19-21). The Appeals Council denied this request on February 18, 2016. (ECF No. 11, pp. 5-10). On April 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on May 18, 2016. (ECF No. 7). 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. § 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 ...

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