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Bennett v. Berryhill

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

December 20, 2018

LETICIA BENNETT, PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Leticia Bennett (“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 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. 4. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB on August 24, 2015. (Tr. 15). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to carpel tunnel, right shoulder injury, ganglion cyst, limited education, difficulty with English language, high blood pressure, breathing issues, and obesity. (Tr. 179). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of July 22, 2015. (Tr. 15). Her application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Id.

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied application. (Tr. 91-92). This hearing request was granted, and Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 10, 2017. (Tr. 30-56). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Michael Hamby. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Elizabeth Clem testified at this hearing. Id.

         On April 11, 2017, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's disability application. (Tr. 15-24). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2020. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 22, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 17, Finding2).

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, obesity, asthma, and hypertension. (Tr. 17, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that 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. 17, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 18-21, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff' subjective complaints and found they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC for sedentary work, except she could occasionally stoop and reach overhead with the dominant upper extremity, and could have no exposure to respiratory irritants. Id.

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 21, Finding 6). Considering her RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 23, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Specifically, the VE testified Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform work as an inspector with 200, 000 such jobs nationally and assembly with 150, 000 such jobs nationally. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability (as defined by the Act) from July 22, 2015 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 23, Finding 11).

         Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. On November 15, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-6). On January 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this case. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 10, 11. This case is now ready 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 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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