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Evans v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

June 24, 2014

KAREN BRITTON EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Karen Britton Evans ("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 application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II 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 DIB application on September 14, 2010. (Tr. 20, 111-114). In her application, Plaintiff claims to be disabled due to the following: nerve damage, a spinal cord injury at C-4 to C-6, adrenal fatigue, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrom in both hands, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and muscle spasms. (Tr. 150). In her application, Plaintiff alleged an onset date of March 10, 2010. (Tr. 20). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 57-58). Thereafter, on March 16, 2011, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 67-74).

Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on May 9, 2011 in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 34-56). Plaintiff was present at this hearing and was represented by counsel, Mr. Wayne Young. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Julia Crume testified at this hearing. Id. As of the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old, which is defined as a "person closely approaching advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (2008). (Tr. 37-38).

On October 5, 2011, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 17-29). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2011. (Tr. 22, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since March 10, 2010, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 22, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, degenerative back disease, neck pain, and back pain. (Tr. 22, Finding 3). However, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 23, Finding 4).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 23-28, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a wide range of light work. Id. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

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) except no more than occasional reaching overhead or frequent use of the hands.

Id.

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW") and determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW. (Tr. 28, Finding 6). The ALJ relied upon the testimony of the VE in making that determination. Id. Specifically, based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW as an office manager (light, semi-skilled) and legal secretary (sedentary, skilled). Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform her PRW, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from March 10, 2010 through the date of his decision or through October 5, 2011. (Tr. 29, Finding 7).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 14-15). On February 22, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). Thereafter, on April 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on May 2, 2013. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 8, 10. 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) (2006); 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. §§ 423(d)(3), ...


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