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Norwood v. Berryhill

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

February 5, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Lillie Norwood (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff's application for DIB was filed on January 3, 2014. (Tr. 11). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to asthma, back problems, right knee and ankle problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 145). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of June 25, 2011, which was later amended to January 23, 2013. (Tr. 11). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 81).

         Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on October 14, 2015. (Tr. 25-46). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Harris Rowzie testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-two (52) years old and had a high school education with some college. (Tr. 29-30).

         On January 13, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 11-21). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) from January 23, 2013, through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a history of carpal tunnel syndrome. (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 her RFC. (Tr. 16-18). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, except cannot kneel; can only reach, handle, finger, and stoop for two thirds of a workday; and must avoid environmental irritants. (Tr. 16).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 18, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 18, finding 10). The ALJ based this 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 representative occupations such as fast food worker with 21, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 2, 692, 000 such jobs in the nation, cashier with 29, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 3, 054, 000 such jobs in the nation, and fast food worker with 18, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 2, 244, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from January 23, 2013, through the date last insured of December 31, 2014. (Tr. 19, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-5). On March 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on March 20, 2017. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 13. 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. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. ...

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