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Yandell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

August 15, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         Tina Yandell (“Yandell”) applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning May 1, 2004. (R. at 18).

         On April 21, 2007, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (R. at 122-28). On October 3, 2008, the Appeals Council remanded the claim for the ALJ to properly consider Yandell's subjective complaints, to provide rationale and evidentiary references for his decision, and to develop the record regarding Yandell's mental impairments. (R. at 101-02).

         On June 2, 2009, Yandell's application was again denied by an ALJ. (R. at 108-17). On February 17, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded because the administrative record could not be located or reconstructed. (R. at 96-97).

         On February 24, 2012, a third ALJ denied Yandell's claim. (R. at 47-58). On November 16, 2012, the Appeals Council dismissed Yandell's request for review, erroneously finding that it was untimely. On September 16, 2014, the Appeals Council vacated the dismissal, granted the request for review, and remanded the ALJ's decision because it relied on “unavailable medical exhibits” and improperly adopted the 2009 ALJ's evaluation of that evidence. (R. at 61-63). In its order, the Appeals Council stated that it “regrets the [two year] delay involved, ” which was caused by the Appeals Council's erroneous dismissal of Yandell's request for review. (R. at 62).

         On April 28, 2015, a fourth ALJ denied Yandell's claim for disability benefits. (R. at 18-33). This time, the Appeals Council denied her request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (R. at 8) On May 16, 2016, Yandell filed this Complaint requesting judicial review.[1]

         For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision, and orders the Commissioner to award Yandell disability benefits.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Yandell had the following severe impairments: history of a fracture of her right femur, status post closed reduction, internal nailing of her right femur; lumbago; arthritis; post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); major depressive disorder; and anxiety disorder. (R. at 20). Based on those impairments, the ALJ determined that Yandell had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with the following additional limitations: occasional stooping and no crouching, crawling, kneeling, or climbing; no balancing or exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights, moving machinery, and open flames; the use of a cane in her dominant arm to balance or ambulate from her workstation; only work where interpersonal contact was incidental to the work performed, i.e., interpersonal contact involving only limited interaction with others, such as meeting and greeting the public, answering simple questions, accepting payment and making change; work where tasks are restricted to a degree of complexity that can be learned by demonstration or repetition within 30 days, and that involve few variables and little judgment; and work that involves simple, direct, and concrete supervision. (R. at 22).

         Yandell had no past relevant work. (R. at 31). After considering testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Yandell could perform unskilled sedentary jobs such as final assembler/optical goods or document preparer. (R. at 32). Accordingly, the ALJ held that Yandell was not disabled. (R. at 32-33).

         II. Discussion

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:

“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; we also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.”

Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         Yandell argues that the ALJ erred by failing to properly consider the opinion of her long-time treating physician, ...

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