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Nash v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 2, 2018

Jessie Mae Nash Plaintiff- Appellant
Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: September 27, 2018

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

          Before LOKEN, BENTON, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         Jessie Mae Nash appeals the judgment of the district court upholding the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.


         Nash, now 68, has a sixth-grade education and a general equivalency diploma. She worked as a telemarketer, recruiter, salesperson, medical assistant, and nursing-home aide. She claims a disability onset date of January 31, 2012-the day she was laid off as a recruiter. Though she sought work, she has not since engaged in substantial gainful activity.

         Seven months later, Nash protectively filed for disability benefits, alleging problems with her back, right knee, and right thumb. Her medical history begins the next month, when she visited Dr. Adam C. Dooley. He diagnosed her with degenerative joint disease in her knee, mild arthritis in her thumb, morbid obesity, and lower back pain. The first record of treatment is six months later, at the emergency room after falling. She next visited a third doctor, Dr. William Joseph, for a general medical evaluation. He noted elevated blood pressure, joint pain in her knee, general abdominal pain, and urinary incontinence. He prescribed medications for knee pain, back pain, and overactive bladder. Nash then amended her limitations to include problems with her bladder and frequent urination.

         At the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Nash testified she is unable to work because of trouble sitting. She said that sitting is painful, and that she lies down and props up her feet to relieve the pain. She frequently uses the restroom, "always going back and forth to the bathroom."

         The ALJ applied the five-step evaluation in the social security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987); Robson v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 389, 392 (8th Cir. 2008). First, Nash had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date. Second, she had three severe medical impairments: degenerative joint disease of the right knee, right thumb arthritis, and obesity. The ALJ found "no persuasive evidence of bladder problems," adding "no medical sources have identified or documented disabling limitations." The ALJ found that Nash's "statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of [the alleged] symptoms are not entirely credible," and that her alleged impairments "do not individually or in combination cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to perform basic work activities." Third, the ALJ found her impairment, or combination of impairments, did not meet any listed impairment. Fourth, the ALJ determined that Nash has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform her past work as a telemarketer.

         The ALJ concluded that Nash was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act between January 31, 2012 and October 16, 2014. The district court affirmed. Nash appeals.


         This court reviews de novo a decision affirming the denial of disability benefits. See Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012). This court reverses the findings of the Commissioner only if they are unsupported by substantial evidence or result from an error of law. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Chismarich v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978, 979 (8th Cir. 2018). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusions." Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007). "[T]his court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it." Id. "If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusions, this court does not reverse even if it would reach a different conclusion, or merely because substantial evidence also supports the contrary outcome." Id.

         Nash first argues that her RFC assessment is unsupported by substantial evidence because "the ALJ did not go over hypotheticals with the vocational expert that would address her having to lay down and prop up her feet or having to go to the bathroom frequently, during normal workday hours." It is "the ALJ's responsibility to determine [the claimant's] RFC based on all the relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and [claimant's] own description of her limitations." Anderson v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir. 1995); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545-46, 416.945-46. Her alleged limitations-needing to lie down and prop up her feet and always going back and forth to the bathroom-are supported only by her testimony. Subjective complaints may be discounted if the claimant's testimony is inconsistent with the ...

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