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Despain v. Berryhill

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 14, 2019

Sherry Despain Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, [1] Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 17, 2019

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

          Before LOKEN, GRASZ, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          GRASZ, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Sherry Despain appeals the district court's[2] judgment that the Social Security Administration ("SSA") Commissioner's decision to deny her disability benefits was supported by substantial evidence. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Despain is a 52-year old woman from Harrisburg, Arkansas, who previously worked as a packaging machine operator at Frito-Lay. She suffered from chronic pain and obesity. In 2015, some back spasms and other pain conditions kept her away from work long enough that she exhausted her permitted absences under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. Because she knew she was no longer capable of working her old job, she resigned. She did not apply for any new jobs.

         In June 2015, Despain applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on May 4, 2015. After the SSA denied her claim initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").

         The ALJ found Despain had six severe impairments: obesity, osteoarthritis of both knees, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, pes planus (flat feet), anxiety, and depression. The ALJ also found none of those impairments individually nor the combination of them were severe enough to satisfy the criteria for disability benefits under SSA regulations.

         The ALJ then determined Despain had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with some limitations. She would "need to sit or stand at will" and be limited to work (1) "with no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and no balancing requirements," (2) with only "occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling," and (3) "where no lower extremity foot control operation is necessary." She also would be "limited to unskilled, simple, routine, and repetitive job tasks, where the supervision is simple, direct, and concrete, consistent with specific vocational preparation (SVP) 1 or 2 jobs that could be learned within thirty days."

         Although Despain could not perform her past relevant work under this RFC, testimony from a vocational expert indicated jobs with her RFC are available in the United States economy. Based on that testimony, the ALJ found Despain was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act.

         The Social Security Appeals Council denied Despain's petition for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final administrative decision. Despain filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Arkansas seeking review. The district court affirmed the Commissioner's decision, and Despain timely appealed.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review de novo the district court's decision affirming the denial of social security benefits and will affirm "if the Commissioner's decision is supported by . . . substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Ash v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 686, 689 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010)). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. (quoting McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). If the record ...


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