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Easter v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Shawn Aundre Easter (“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 application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI 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. 8.[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 protectively filed his disability application on September 12, 2011. (Tr. 83-90). Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to a sleeping disorder, fractured knee, torn anterior cruciate ligament, left hand carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, breathing problems, hypertension, and decreased left eye vision. (Tr. 22-39, 114, 132). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of August 31, 2011. (Tr. 83). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 40-42, 45-48, 52-54).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied application. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) granted that request and held an administrative video hearing on April 23, 2013. (Tr. 21-39). Following the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 10-17). Upon appeal to this Court, the matter was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 290-295). On May 26, 2016, the ALJ held a supplemental administrative hearing in El Dorado, Arkansas. (Tr. 247-269). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified and was represented by Hans Pullen. Id. A medical expert, Dr. Kweli J. Amusa, M.D., testified at this hearing, and a vocational expert, Dr. Thomas E. Bott, Ph.D., also testified. Id.

         On June 23, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 235-240). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 12, 2011, the application date. (Tr. 237, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post right anterior cruciate ligament (“ACL”) tear and meniscus tear; and status post ACL reconstruction. (Tr. 237, Finding 2). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”), and specifically Listing 1.02. (Tr. 237, Finding 3).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's RFC. (Tr. 237-240, Finding 4). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b).


         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and with the assistance of the vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a barber. (Tr. 240, Finding 5). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, since September 12, 2011, the date the application was filed. (Tr. 240, Finding 6).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff submitted exceptions to the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council on July 13, 2016. (Tr. 227-231). On December 14, 2016, the Appeals Council denied this request finding no reason under the rules to assume jurisdiction. (Tr. 222-224). On January 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on February 21, 2017. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. This case is now ripe for determination.

         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) (2010); 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 ...

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