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Null v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2017

WILLIAM J. NULL PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, William J. Null, 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) and supplemental security income (SSI) 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 May 24, 2010, alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2006, [2] due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), an aneurysm on the brain, shortness of breath, depression, and high blood pressure. (Doc. 9, pp. 115, 122, 184). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through December 31, 2014.[3] (Doc. 9, 144). An administrative hearing was held on July 8, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 9, pp. 30-61).

         In a written decision dated October 4, 2011, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with limitations. (Doc. 9, pp. 16-25). The Appeals Council declined review of the ALJ's decision on November 16, 2011. (Doc. 9, pp. 7-10).

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's October 4, 2011, decision to this Court. In a decision dated March 29, 2013, this Court remanded the case back to the Commissioner to further develop the record, and to re-evaluate Plaintiff's impairments. (Doc. 9, pp. 620-626). The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision, re-opened and consolidated a subsequent favorable ALJ decision dated May 3, 2013, and remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ on July 10, 2014. (Doc. 9, pp. 595-598, 611-617). A supplemental administrative hearing was held on May 19, 2015. (Doc. 9, pp. 562-594). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified.

         By written decision dated February 23, 2016, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Doc.9, p. 542). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:

         arteriovenous malformation (AVM), COPD, and depression. However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Doc. 9, p. 542). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the RFC to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant can only occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and/or crouch. In addition, the claimant must avoid hazards including unprotected he8ights (sic) and moving machinery. The claimant must also avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, odors, gasses, and other similar pulmonary irritants. Finally, the claimant can perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed; and he is able to respond to supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete.

(Doc. 9, p. 544). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work as a compact assembler, a nut sorter, and an ampoule sealer. (Doc. 9, p. 553).

         Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 12, 13).

         The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. 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 ...


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