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Hughes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

December 6, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Connie Hughes (“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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and a period of disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2009), the Honorable P. K. Holmes, III referred this case to this Court for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. The Court, having reviewed the entire transcript and relevant briefing, recommends the ALJ's determination be AFFIRMED.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on September 8, 2015. (Tr. 87). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to bipolar, hip and back pain, diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, kidney issues, obesity, right shoulder pain (Tr. 360). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of March 27, 2014. (Tr. 87). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id.

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on February 1, 2016. (Tr. 274-275). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on September 22, 2016. (Tr. 106-136). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Michael Hamby. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim B. Spragins testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-seven (47) years old and had a high school education (Tr. 113).

         On November 2, 2016, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 87-99). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status of the Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 89, Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 27, 2014. (Tr. 89, Finding 2).

         The ALJ next found Plaintiff had severe impairments that included degenerative disc disease of the back, bilateral shoulder pain, migraine headaches, diabetes, essential hypertension, obesity, affective disorder, and intellectual disability. (Tr. 89, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ 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. 90, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 93-97, Finding 5). First, the ALJ 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 could occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; could perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed; and limited to work where the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment; and the required supervision is simple, direct and concrete. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 97, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 98, Finding 10). The ALJ based his 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 a representative occupation such as price marker with approximately 4, 300 such jobs in Arkansas and 496, 000 such jobs in the nation, molding machine tender with approximately 2, 400 such jobs in Arkansas and 168, 000 such jobs in the nation, and poultry plant production worker with approximately 2, 400 such jobs in Arkansas and 51, 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 March 27, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 99, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 326-329). On September 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-7). On November 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 14, 15. 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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