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Lindsey v. Berryhill

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

April 3, 2018

LISA LINDSEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Susan Webber Wright. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Plaintiff, Lisa Lindsey, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny her claim for disability insurance benefits. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is ready for a decision.

         A 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 free of legal error. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         Ms. Lindsey is forty-nine years old. (Tr. 33.) She is a high school graduate (id.) and has past relevant work as a school cafeteria cook, hospital housekeeper, and dental floss packer. (Tr. 21.)

         The Administrative Law Judge[1] (ALJ) found Ms. Lindsey had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 12, 2014 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. 12.) She has “severe” impairments in the form of “degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine, chronic pain syndrome, obesity, major depressive disorder, and generalize anxiety disorder.” (Id.) Although she has “severe” impairments, the ALJ found Ms. Lindsey did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.[2] (Tr. 13-14.)

         The ALJ determined Ms. Lindsey had the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of sedentary work given her physical and mental impairments. (Tr. 15.) Based on this finding, the ALJ concluded Ms. Lindsey could no longer perform her past work and utilized the services of a vocational expert to determine if jobs existed that Plaintiff could perform despite her impairments. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined Ms. Lindsey could perform the jobs of document preparer and surveillance system monitor. (Tr. 22, 51-55.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Ms. Lindsey was not disabled. (Tr. 23.)

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making his decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint initiating this appeal. (Doc. No. 2.)

         The central issue in this case is whether the ALJ properly assessed the limiting effects of Plaintiff's back impairment. I find this case to be a very close call. There is much evidence - including a statement from a treating doctor - that supports Plaintiff's allegations that she is unable to work because of the debilitating pain and limitation associated with her degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine. However, there is also substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not precluded from all forms of work activity.

         One of Plaintiff's treating doctors, William Edward Ackerman, III, M.D., reported that Plaintiff did have some pain and limitation (Tr. 316), but stated, “The patient is not disabled from working. In my medical opinion the patient should have an easier job, but she is not disabled wherein she is unable to do any activities.” (Tr. 359.) More recent treatment records from Krishnappa Prasad, M.D., also support the ALJ's determination. (Tr. 664-669.) Additionally, Garry Stewart, M.D., completed a General Physical Examination of Ms. Lindsey and reported nothing to support a claim of complete disability. (Tr. 307-312.)

         But Plaintiff argues the ALJ incorrectly discounted the opinion of her treating physician, J. Michael Calhoun, M.D. (Doc. No. 11 at 5-7.) Dr. Calhoun concluded Ms. Lindsey was disabled. (Tr. 655.) The ALJ discounted Dr. Calhoun's opinion saying, “This opinion provides only vague and undefined work-related limitations and, as noted above, ...

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