United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
ARGIE A. PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Argie Phillips, 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 and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II 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 application for DIB on March 23, 2007, alleging an onset date of October 7, 2006, due to arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, numbness and tingling in the fingers, and back problems. Tr.136-143, 161, 169-170, 190, 209, 217. His claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. An administrative hearing was then held, resulting in an unfavorable decision on May 29, 2009. Tr. 34-89, 92-103, 415-472. The decision was affirmed by this Court, but remanded by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Eighth Circuit found that the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion evidence and Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, but erred at step four in the sequential process, finding Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work ("PRW"). A supplemental hearing was held on April 10, 2013. Tr. 473-543. Plaintiff was both present and represented at that hearing.
A the time of the second administrative hearing, Plaintiff was a person of advanced age and possessed a general equivalency degree. Tr. 102. He had past relevant work ("PRW") as a router machine operator and lead man. Tr. 103, 162, 179, 180-186, 199-205, 483-490, 514, 647-648.
On May 24, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") concluded that, although severe, Plaintiff's bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and disorder of the back did not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. Tr. 405. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work that does not involve repetitive flexion and extension of both wrists. Tr. 405-409. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform work as an amusement park worker, camp ground attendant, warehouse worker, and child care attendant for handicapped children. Tr. 409-410.
Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF No. 15, 17.
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, ...