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Blanks v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

April 17, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Rebecca Lee Blanks (“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 application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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. 10.[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 on July 17, 2013. (Tr. 55). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to primary open angel glaucoma, macular degeneration, and hypertension. (Tr. 150). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of July 16, 2013. (Tr. 55, 150). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 55, 31-70, 73-74).

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on March 6, 2014. (Tr. 76). This hearing request was granted and Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on November 4, 2014. (Tr. 10-30). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Michael Angel. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth Clem testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was fifty-one (51) years old, which is defined as a “person closely approaching advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (2008) (DIB) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(d) (2008) (SSI). (Tr. 14). As for her education, Plaintiff testified she had four years of college. (Tr. 15, 151).

         On January 22, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 55-63). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 57, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) from July 16, 2013, through last date insured of December 31, 2014. (Tr. 57, Finding 2).

         The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: glaucoma, macular degeneration, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 57, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined those 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. 58, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 59-61, 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 work at all exertional levels except she could not perform jobs requiring rapid, repetitive flexion or extension of the wrists bilaterally; cannot perform frequent fingering; must avoid hazards such as unprotected heights, moving machinery, and open flames; and has unlimited far acuity but limited near acuity and cannot discern items smaller than large print. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 61, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff not capable of performing her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 62, Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as cafeteria attendant with 1, 100 such jobs in Arkansas and 140, 000 such jobs in the nation, and housekeeper with 2, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 220, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from July 16, 2013, through the date last insured. (Tr. 62, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 8). On March 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On April 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 15, 16. 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) (2010); 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 represents the findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

         It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a “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 U.S.C. §§ ...

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