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Gay v. Berryhill

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

October 20, 2017



         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Melia G. Gay, applied for disability income benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) on January 30, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January I, 2007. (Tr. at 20). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ'') decided that based on a lack of medical evidence for Gay's DIB claim, he would consider her SSI claim only (with relevant time-period of January 30, 2014 through May 20, 2015). (Tr. at 20, 27). The ALJ denied her claim on May 20, 2015. (Tr. at 36). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Gay has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Gay had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of July 1, 2007. (Tr. at 23). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Gay had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; status post right shoulder arthroscopy; depression, anxiety; congestive heart failure; and hepatitis. Id.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Gay's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Gay had the residual functional capacity (ARFC'') to perform sedentary work with restrictions: 1) she would be limited to occasional postural activities of stooping, crouching, bending, kneeling, crawling, and balancing; 2) she would be limited to frequent reaching overhead with the dominant right upper extremity; 3) she would be limited to work that is simple, routine, and repetitive with supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete; and 4) she would be limited to frequent contact with co-workers and supervisors and occasional contact with the general public. (Tr. at 25). The ALJ next determined that Gay could not return to past relevant work. (Tr. at 34). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE") to find that, based on Gay's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. at 35). Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Gay was not disabled. (Tr. at 36).

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). ''Substantial evidence'' in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is ''enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.'' Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, ''merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision." Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Gay's Arguments on Appeal

         Gay argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. She contends that the ALJ did not assign the proper RFC, arguing that her alleged pain would further restrict her ability to work. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining the claimant's [RFC], the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of [his] impairments. Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996).

         In making her RFC argument, Gay only raises symptoms of pain as evidence of error by the ALJ. Therefore, the Court will limit its discussion to impairments that account for Gay's pain.[2]

         Gay's complaints of pain arise from lumbar degenerative disc disease and right shoulder problems, which required arthroscopic surgery. On April 6, 2013, Dr. Andrew Wilkins, M.D., found only mild tenderness in a musculoskeletal exam, and found that Gay was able to stand on tiptoes and heels, tandem walk, and squat without difficulty. (Tr. at 641-643). She had full muscle strength and normal sensation and reflexes. Id. Range of motion for the spine and upper and lower extremity joints was normal. (Tr. ...

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