United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Aaron Eugene Whiteley, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 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:
Plaintiff protectively filed his current applications for DIB and SSI on September 22, 2010, alleging an inability to work since January 5, 2009,  due to degenerative arthritis, a right shoulder rotator cuff tear, anxiety, depression, black lung, and constant shoulder pain. (Tr. 147, 154). An administrative hearing was held on November 2, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 31-84).
By written decision dated July 2, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 13). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease of lumbar spine; osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder status post surgery; osteoarthritis of both hands; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; cognitive disorder; major depression; generalized anxiety disorder; pain disorder; alcohol abuse/dependence; and marijuana abuse...
(Tr. 13). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs. Additionally, the claimant is limited to only occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. The claimant can frequently, but not constantly, handle and finger bilaterally, but must avoid overhead work. The claimant must also avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. Further, the claimant is limited to work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed; the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and use of little judgment; and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete.
(Tr. 16). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work as a nut and bolt assembler, a production worker, and a machine operator/tender. (Tr. 25).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which after reviewing additional evidence submitted by Plaintiff, denied that request on April 24, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1-6). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 12, 13).
II. Applicable Law:
This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart , 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart , 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari , 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). In other words, 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. 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 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 also 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.
The Commissioner's regulations require her 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, 416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the ...