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Atkinson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

October 20, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Jeremy Pernell Atkinson (“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 his applications for Disability Income Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2005), the Honorable Susan O. Hickey referred this case to the Honorable Barry A. Bryant for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. The Court, having reviewed the entire transcript and relevant briefing, recommends the ALJ's determination be AFFIRMED.


         Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI were filed on March 18, 2014. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to sickle cell anemia. (Tr. 239). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of February 14, 2014. (Tr. 10). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 10). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 163).

         Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on August 28, 2015. (Tr. 29-80). Plaintiff was present and was not represented by counsel at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, his Grandmother Georgia Jones, friend Bernistine Kilgore, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) William Elmore testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-two (32) years old, had graduated from high school and completed three years of college. (Tr. 36, 39).

         On October 26, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 10-23). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2019. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since February 14, 2014. (Tr. 12, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of sickle cell disease, avascular necrosis of the hips and right shoulder, and status-post hip arthroplasty. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 15, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 16-20). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. The ALJ also found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work activity except can sit for six to eight hours out of an eight-hour workday; can sit for one to two hours without interruption, and is able to get up and stretch as needed; would be able to adjust work seat as needed and to occasionally stand to relieve pressure, but could perform work in the seated position; can stand and walk no more than one to two hours in an eight-hour workday, and no more than 15 to 30 minutes at a time; has mild to moderate pain and restrictions on climbing and balancing; can no more than occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl; cannot be exposed to unrestricted heights, ladders, and scaffolds; cannot have jobs operating machinery such as a forklift, taxicab, or bus; can perform no more than unskilled work with rote activities; can understand, remember, and follow concrete instructions; and due to his medication, no more than superficial contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 20, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 21, Finding 10). The ALJ based his 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 a representative occupation such as a production assembler with approximately 1, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and approximately 60, 000 in the nation and general office clerk with approximately 500 such jobs in Arkansas and approximately 60, 000 in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from February 14, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 22, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 6). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On October 5, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-5). On December 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 8, 9. 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) (2006); 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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