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Ryan v. Colvin

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

September 4, 2014

ANTHONY B. RYAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Anthony B. Ryan, 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 claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II 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:

This case is before the Court as a result of the undersigned's opinion and judgment dated December 21, 2011, wherein the matter was remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (No. 10-3062, Docs. 12, 13). Plaintiff had filed an application for DIB on September 8, 2004, alleging an inability to work since February 1, 1984, due to lower back pain. Administrative hearings were held on March 6, 2007 and December 13, 2007. In that case, by written decision dated February 6, 2008, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, February 1, 1984 through December 31, 1984, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work with certain limitations. The undersigned reversed and remanded the case, directing the ALJ to give appropriate weight to Dr. McCornack's assessment and to re-evaluate Plaintiff's RFC, and to specifically list all of Plaintiff's limitations in a properly prepared hypothetical question to the Vocational Expert (VE). (No. 10-3062, Doc. 12).

The case now before the Court arises as a result of remand, when a hearing before the ALJ was held on October 23, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 906-929). By written decision dated April 5, 2013, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments - back disorder and respiratory disorder (COPD). (Tr. 829). However, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff's conditions were not severe enough to meet or medically equal one of the impairments listed in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 830). The ALJ found that through the date last insured (December 31, 1984), Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except as follows: The claimant can frequently lift and/or carry less than ten pounds and occasionally ten pounds, sit for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday, and stand and/or walk for a total of at least two hours in an eight hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and crouch. He must avoid hazards including unprotected heights and moving machinery.

(Tr. 830). With the help of a VE, the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would not have been able to perform any past relevant work, but would have been able to perform work as charge account clerk, nut sorter, and telephone order clerk. (Tr. 833-834).

Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). 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. 15, 16).

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 3year 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)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

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

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record; and 2) The ALJ's decision was not ...

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