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Litchford v. Berryhill

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

March 7, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         Camillia Litchford (“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 Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and a period of disability under Titles II and XVI 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. 5.[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 applications on January 22, 2015. (Tr. 143). In these applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, right foot pain, and obesity. (Tr. 341). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of May 29, 2013. (Tr. 143). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 83-110).

         After Plaintiff's applications were denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on these applications, and this hearing request was granted. Plaintiff's first administrative hearing was held on October 27, 2015. (Tr. 58-82). Thereafter, the ALJ entered an unfavorable disability determination on December 11, 2015. (Tr. 139-155). The Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ. (Tr. 156-160). The ALJ then held a second administrative hearing on May 16, 2017. (Tr. 58-82). This hearing was held in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Mike Hamby. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim Spraggins testified at this hearing. Id. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was thirty-eight (38) years old, which is defined as a “younger individual” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c)(2008) (SSI) and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008) (DIB). (Tr. 35). Plaintiff also testified she had completed high school. Id.

         On August 9, 2017, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (Tr. 12-21). The ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2017. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since May 29, 2013, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 17, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic lower back pain syndrome, plantar fasciitis, obesity, and depression. (Tr. 17, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 17-18, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 18-21). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and largely discounted them. Id. Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the following RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except limited to performing simple tasks with simple instructions.


         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) and determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW as a poultry eviscerator. (Tr. 21, Finding 6). Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from May 29, 2013 through the date of the ALJ's decision or through August 9, 2017. (Tr. 21, Finding 7).

         Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable disability determination. On May 3, 2018, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's disability determination. (Tr. 1-6). On May 29, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on May 29, 2018. ECF No. 5. 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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