United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Travis Chaney, 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 his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(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 his applications for DIB and SSI on April 20, 2006, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2004, due to due to chronic back pain, arthritis, pain in his left ankle, a hole in his left retina, a herniated disk in his back, pinched nerves, muscle spasms, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and obesity. Tr. 78, 102, 108-109, 130-135. An administrative hearing was held on October 6, 2008, resulting in an unfavorable decision on February 6, 2009. Tr. 14-31, 454-496. The matter was ultimately appealed to this Court, and remanded on February 2, 2011. Tr. 525-533.
On December 9, 2011, a second administrative hearing was held. Tr. 837-864. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. At this time, he was 38 years old and possessed a high school education and two years of college credit. Tr. 461-462. He had past relevant work ("PRW") as an electrician's mate, press mill operator, and a clerk. Tr. 90-91, 103, 131.
On November 30, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") concluded that, although severe, Plaintiff's degenerative disk disease ("DDD") of the lumbar spine, small bilateral calcaneal spurs, hypertension, obesity, anxiety, and mood disorder did not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. Tr. 503-505. After reviewing the record, including the Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff to be "less-than-fully credible." Tr. 505. He then determined that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work involving occasional climbing or stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work at exposed heights or around dangerous moving machinery; and, unskilled work where the interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgments, and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Tr. 508. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform work as a small product assembler, bakery line worker, and packing line worker. Tr. 510.
On October 30, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 1-6. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1-4. This case is before the undersigned by by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF No. 10, 11.
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and the ALJ's opinion, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary
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. Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough 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 we find it possible "to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence, and one of those positions represents the Secretary's findings, we 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 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.
A. The Evaluation Process:
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 or her 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 or her 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, ...