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Diley v. Berryhill

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

February 6, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Ronette L. Diley (“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. In accordance with that referral, and after reviewing the arguments in this case, this Court recommends Plaintiff's case be REVERSED AND REMANDED.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her disability applications on June 22, 2014 (DIB) and on February 29, 2016 (SSI). (Tr. 18). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to depression, vision problems, chronic back pain, and chronic leg pain. (Tr. 193). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of February 13, 2008. (Tr. 18). Her applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 66-84).

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 34-65). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 25, 2016 in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Laura McKinnon. Id. Plaintiff, a witness for Plaintiff, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Debra Steele testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was forty-four (44) years old, which is defined as a “younger individual” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (2008), on her alleged disability onset date. Id. Plaintiff also testified she had a high school education. (Tr. 39).

         On February 15, 2017, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's disability applications. (Tr. 11-28). The ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2013. (Tr. 20, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since February 13, 2008, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 20, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairment: obesity. (Tr. 20-24, 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. 24-25, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 25-27, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found they were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c).

(Tr. 25-27, Finding 5).

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 27-28, Finding 6). Considering her RFC and vocational profile, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing her PRW as a billing clerk, school secretary, an data entry clerk. Id. Notably, the ALJ determined this work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by her RFC. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from February 13, 2008 (alleged onset date) through February 15, 2017 (ALJ's decision date). (Tr. 28, Finding 7).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (Tr. 5-8). On November 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. Id. On January 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this case. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12-13.

         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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