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Hendon v. Berryhill

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

June 20, 2017

RHONDA SUE HENDON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Rhonda Sue Hendon, 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 claim for 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 current application for SSI on April 23, 2013, alleging an inability to work since May 12, 2012, due to the following conditions: removal of a portion of her colon, back pain, and depression. (Doc. 9, pp. 95, 111). An administrative hearing was held on June 27, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 9, pp. 37-69).

         In a written opinion dated November 14, 2014, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had severe impairments of partial colon removal, degenerative disc disease, pain disorder, adjustment disorder with depressed mood and amphetamine abuse in remission. (Doc. 9, p. 17). After reviewing the evidence in its entirety, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any listed impairments described in Appendix 1 of the Regulations (20 CFR, Subpart P, Appendix 1). (Doc. 9, pp. 17-19). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and fumes, odors, dust, gases and poorly ventilated areas. The claimant can frequently handle and finger bilaterally. She is able to perform work where interpersonal contact is routine but superficial; complexity of tasks is learned by experience, several variables, judgment within limits. Supervision required is little for routine but detailed for non-routine.

(Doc. 9, p. 19). With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a waitress. (Doc. 9, p. 27).

         Subsequently, on December 4, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council. (Doc. 9, p. 11). The Appeals Council denied her request on February 3, 2016. (Doc. 9, pp. 5-9). Plaintiff then filed this action on March 25, 2016. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have submitted briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 11).[2]

         The Court has reviewed the transcript in its entirety. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         II. Applicable Law:

         This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). 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. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. 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 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

         The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.

         III. ...


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