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Ledbetter v. Berryhill

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

October 18, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Davonne Elizabeth Ledbetter (“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 her application for a 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. 9.[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 her disability application on December 19, 2014. (Tr. 20). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to due to laryngeal amyloidosis and GERD, acid reflux. (Tr. 153). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of December 17, 2014. (Tr. 135). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 20).

         On March 10, 2016, Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on her application. (Tr. 32-49). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Michael Angel. Id. Plaintiff, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) William Elmore, testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was fifty-three (53) years old and had a high school education with some college. (Tr. 36).

         On April 26, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 20-27). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2019. (Tr. 2, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since December 17, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 22, Finding 2).

         The ALJ then found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: laryngeal amyloidosis. (Tr. 22, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined those 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”). (Tr. 23, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 23-25). 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 a full range of work at all exertional levels but limited to occasional oral communication of simple information where speaking was not essential to the job performance due to voice problems. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 18, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing her PRW as a teacher and custodian. Id. In the alternative, given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, the ALJ also found a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as hospital cleaner with approximately 450, 000 jobs in the nation, and housekeeping with approximately 40, 000 such jobs in the nation. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from December 17, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 27, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 132-134). The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On August 29, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 16, 17. 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) (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 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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