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Fentress v. Berryhill

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 25, 2017

Donald Fentress Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 11, 2017

          Corrected April 25, 2017 [1]

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Jonesboro

          Before SMITH [2] and KELLY, Circuit Judges, and SIPPEL, [3] District Judge.

          SIPPEL, District Judge.

         Donald Fentress appeals the decision of the district court[4] affirming the Commissioner's partial denial of his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, 1381. The Commissioner found Fentress was not disabled from September 22, 2005 through August 23, 2012, but became disabled on August 24, 2012. Because the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Fentress suffers from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, depression, hepatitis C, diabetes, liver damage, hepatomegaly, uveitis of the left eye, coronary artery disease, and degenerative disc disease. He applied for DIB and SSI benefits on July 27, 2006, alleging an onset date of September 22, 2005. After his claims were denied at the administrative level, Fentress sought review in district court, which remanded his claims to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Fentress then filed new applications for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging an onset date of September 30, 2009. These applications were consolidated with his initial applications, and on December 1, 2011, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied all of Fentress's claims. Fentress pursued an administrative appeal, and in November 2013, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. On April 7, 2014, a different ALJ considered Fentress's claims and issued a partially favorable decision, finding him disabled since August 24, 2012, but not disabled from September 30, 2009 through August 23, 2012.

         On July 15, 2015, the Appeals Council reviewed Fentress's case and issued its own opinion. After consideration of all of Fentress's applications, the Appeals Council agreed with the ALJ that Fentress was disabled as of August 24, 2012, but concluded that he was not disabled from the initial onset date of September 22, 2005, through August 23, 2012.

         Like the ALJ before it, the Appeals Council evaluated Fentress's disability claims according to the five-step sequential evaluation process prescribed by the Social Security Regulations.[5] See Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789-90 (8th Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g). At step four of the analysis, the Appeals Council determined that Fentress retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, with modifications. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a) (defining RFC as "the most [a claimant] can still do despite" his "physical or mental limitations"). In reaching its decision, the Appeals Council reviewed, and ultimately discounted, an opinion rendered by Fentress's treating physician, Bradford Waters, M.D., that chronic pain and fatigue would prevent Fentress from working. The Appeals Council assigned little weight to the opinion of Dr. Waters as inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record, including numerous unremarkable physical examinations, Fentress's own denials of pain, and the opinion of a consulting physician, Bruce Randolph, M.D., who examined Fentress.

         Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the Appeals Council found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy which Fentress could perform with his modified light work RFC prior to August 24, 2012. Therefore, at step five of the analysis the Appeals Council concluded that Fentress was not disabled from his initial alleged onset date of September 22, 2005, through August 23, 2012, but was disabled as of August 24, 2012. This decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Fentress then sought review in the district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court affirmed the decision of the Commissioner. Fentress now appeals, arguing that the Commissioner erred in discounting the opinion of his treating physician and when formulating his RFC.

         II. Discussion

         "We review the district court's decision upholding the denial of social security benefits de novo." McDade v. Astrue, 720 F.3d 994, 997-98 (8th Cir. 2013). "We will uphold the [Commissioner's] decision to deny benefits if that decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1091 (8th Cir. 2012). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a decision." Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). We consider both evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it, see Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011), but we ...


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