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Reece v. Colvin

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

June 18, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In this judicial review, the court must determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. Procedural Background:

The plaintiff filed her application for DIB on November 19, 2010 alleging an onset date of March 4, 1992, due to plaintiff's fibromyalgia, diabetes, bone tumors, torn rotator cuff, and mental problems. (T. 58, 108). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on October 19, 2011. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was 60 years of age, possessed a high school education, and was able to communicate in English. (T. 20). The plaintiff has no past relevant work ("PRW") experience. (T. 20).

On January 6, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") concluded that, although severe, plaintiff's back disorder does not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. (T. 18). The ALJ found that plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of medium work. (T. 18). With the assistance of a vocational expert through a series of interrogatories, the ALJ determined plaintiff could perform other work as a dietary aide, hospital food service worker, and hand packager. (T. 21).

II. Applicable Law:

The court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. "Our review extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; we also consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision." Id. As long as there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision, the court may not reverse the decision simply because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a contrary outcome, or because the court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If the court finds it possible "to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence, and one of those positions represents the Secretary's findings, the court must affirm the decision of the Secretary." Cox, 495 F.3d at 617 (internal quotation and alteration omitted).

It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines "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. § § 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

The Commissioner's regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)-(f)(2003). Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion:

The court has reviewed the Briefs filed by the Parties, the Transcript of the proceedings before the Commission, including a review of the hearing before the ALJ, the medical records, and relevant administrative records and finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

A. Period of Review

In her application, the plaintiff initially alleged an onset date of March 4, 1992. (T. 108). She later requested in a pre-hearing memorandum to amend her alleged onset date to October 1, 2010, which was her date first insured. (T. 252). At the hearing, the plaintiff's attorney requested an amended alleged onset date of October 1, 2010, and the ALJ noted the request. (T. 32-33). Subsequently, the ALJ held in the decision that March 4, 1992 was the alleged onset date, and that the plaintiff had not been under a disability from that date through the date of the decision. (T. 16, 21). The plaintiff expressed concern that the ALJ withdrew his acknowledgment of the plaintiff's amendment. See Plaintiff's Brief (Pl.'s Br.) at 5. The court finds that the use of the alleged onset date of March 4, 1992 in the decision was not a reversible error because the original alleged onset date was prior to the amended alleged onset date. The ALJ simply reviewed more medical records, including the evidence from October 1, 2010 and beyond, than what was necessary in making his decision. The hearing records show that the ALJ was aware of the request to amend the alleged onset date (T. 32-33). Nevertheless, the ALJ ultimately found that the residual ...

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