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Farnsworth v. Berryhill

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

August 4, 2017

DAWNA FARNSWORTH PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Dawna Farnsworth, 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) 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 her current applications for DIB and SSI on July 19, 2012, alleging an inability since December 31, 2009, [2] due to back problems, neck problems, anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia. (Doc. 10, pp. 47, 115, 314, 321). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through March 31, 2013. (Doc. 10, pp. 18, 176, 329). An administrative video hearing was held on August 9, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 10, pp. 83-105).

         In a written decision dated September 19, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with limitations. (Doc. 10, pp. 173-187). Plaintiff requested review of the unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council. (Doc. 10, p. 263). On October 3, 2014, the Appeals Council entered an order remanding the case back to the ALJ. (Doc. 10, pp. 194-198). A supplemental administrative video hearing was held on March 30, 2015. (Doc. 10, pp. 44-82).

         By written decision dated September 3, 2015, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Doc. 10, p. 20). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; a rotator cuff abnormality; obesity; bilateral vision loss; a urinary tract disorder; ovarian cysts, status post postoperative; anxiety disorder; depressive disorder; and borderline personality disorder. 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. 10, p. 21). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, she can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally, and she can frequently finger/handle bilaterally. She cannot do work requiring excellent vision but can avoid workplace hazards and can distinguish between shapes and colors of items such as nails, screws and bolts. She can do simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed. She can respond to supervision that is simple, direct and concrete.

(Doc. 10, p. 23). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform work as a fishing reel assembler, a motor polarizer, and a cuff folder. (Doc. 10, p. 34).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on July 13, 2016. (Doc. 10, pp. 8-11). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12).

         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 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), 1382(3)(C). 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. ยงยง 404.1520, 416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the ...


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