United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
Misty Dawn Miner ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI 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. 6. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on November 26, 2007. (Tr. 101-103). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to depression, dizziness, irritable bowl syndrome, and severe pain on her left side. (Tr. 143). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of July 31, 2006. (Tr. 113). Plaintiff's SSI application was denied initially and at the reconsideration levels. (Tr. 60-69).
Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing on her application. (Tr. 70-72). This hearing was held on May 12, 2009. (Tr. 22-49). On October 26, 2009, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 55-59). On April 19, 2010, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff appealed this decision in federal district court, and on June 7, 2011, the Court remanded this case for further administrative proceedings. (Tr. 631-637).
Plaintiff's second hearing was held on August 2, 2011. (Tr. 595-626). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Coy Rush, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Sarah Moore testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-nine (39) years old, which is defined as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c)(2009). (Tr. 600). The Plaintiff testified she had a high school education and two years of college. Id.
On December 16, 2011, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 567-579). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since November 26, 2007, the application date. (Tr. 569, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of chronic abdominal pain secondary to adhesions, ovarian cysts post surgery, osteoarthritis of the left hip and lumbar spine, osteoarthritis and internal derangement of the left knee, a history of syncope, pulmonary nodule, obesity, major depressive disorder/dysthymia, anxiety disorder, pain disorder, and personality disorder. (Tr. 569, Finding 2). The ALJ also determined, however, the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 569, Finding 3).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 571, Finding 4). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not totally credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined, based upon his review of Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the hearing testimony, and the evidence in the record, that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work, except she could occasionally balance and stoop, but could not climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl; avoid all hazards at work including driving; and can perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed; the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment required; and supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 578, Finding 5). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had no PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 578-579, Finding 9). The ALJ based his determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a machine tender with approximately 250 such jobs in Arkansas and 19, 245 such jobs in the nation, assembler with approximately 365 such jobs in Arkansas and 49, 700 such jobs in the nation, and inspector with approximately 50 such jobs in Arkansas and 4, 200 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from November 26, 2007 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 579, Finding 10).
On February 21, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to review this decision. (Tr. 560-563). On April 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 22, 2013. ECF No. 6. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 14. 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 supporting 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 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), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a "substantial gainful activity"; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at ...