United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
EVA M. BURRIE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Eva M. Burrie, 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 her 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
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on July 28, 2010 (Tr. 17, 147) alleging an inability to work since July 24, 2010, due to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, stress cardiomyopathy, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, depression, and gastric reflux (Tr. 147, 169). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on October 6, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 37-75).
At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-five years of age and possessed an associate's degree. (Tr. 42-43). Plaintiff had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a nurse and as an assistant director of nursing. (Tr. 43, 160, 170).
By a written decision dated March 22, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: nonischemic cardiomyopathy, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, fibromyalgia, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome status post surgery ("CTS"), hypertension, asthma, obesity, history of syncopal episode, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, somatoform disorder, and psychological factors affecting medical conditions. (Tr. 19). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, 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. (Tr. 19). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in CFR 404.1567(a) except she could not perform any rapid or repetitive flexion or extension of the wrists; must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including no driving as part of work; could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; and could do work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment involved, and supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. (T. 22). With the help of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any PRW. (Tr. 28). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as a maid or housekeeper, laundry worker, or hand packer and that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, during the relevant time period. (Tr. 29).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on May 25, 2012, (Tr. 12) which denied that request on August 19, 2013. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeals briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 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. "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." Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). 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 or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at lease one year and that prevents her from engaging in 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993)
The Commissioner's regulations require the application of a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits. 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, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
The Court has reviewed the Briefs filed by the Parties, the Transcript of the proceedings before the Commission, including a review of the hearing before the ALJ, the medical records, and relevant administrative records and finds ...