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Anderson v. Colvin

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

November 3, 2014

CARLA ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ERIN L. SETTER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Carla Anderson, 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) partially denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI 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 her applications for DIB and SSI on April 21, 2010, alleging an inability to work since April 14, 2009, due to an injury to her left shoulder, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 131-135, 138-139, 168, 172). An administrative hearing was held on July 26, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 32-71).

By written decision dated June 25, 2012, the ALJ found that from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: left shoulder degenerative joint disease/impingement bursitis/adhesive capsultis status post surgery (x 2); hypertension; bipolar disorder/major depressive disorder/adjustment disorder/depressive disorder not otherwise specified (NOS); panic disorder/post-traumatic stress disorder/anxiety disorder NOS; pain disorder; and borderline personality disorder. (Tr. 15). However, the ALJ found that from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 15). The ALJ also found that from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant could lift no more than 5 pounds with her dominant upper extremity; the claimant could perform no more than occasional pushing and pulling with the left upper extremity; the claimant could lift no more than ½ pound with her left upper extremity with the elbow at the side; the claimant could perform no lifting above waist level with her left upper extremity; and the claimant could perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and where little judgment is required, and where the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete.

(Tr. 16). The ALJ found that from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work and that there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed, and that Plaintiff was under a disability from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010. (Tr. 19).

In the same decision, the ALJ found that beginning on December 20, 2010, Plaintiff had not developed any new impairment or impairments, and that her current severe impairments were the same as those present from April 14, 2009 through December 19, 2010. (Tr. 19). The ALJ reported that beginning December 20, 2010, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listing. (Tr. 19). The ALJ further found that medical improvement occurred and Plaintiff's disability ended as of December 20, 2010. (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that beginning on December 20, 2010, the Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can only occasionally work overhead with her nondominant upper left extremity; the claimant can occasionally push and pull with her upper left extremity; and the claimant can perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and where little judgment is required, and where the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete.

(Tr. 22). With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that beginning December 20, 2010, Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a cashier. (Tr. 25). The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended December 20, 2010. (Tr. 26).

Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which considered additional evidence and denied that request on August 6, 2013. (Tr. 1-5). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs and the matter is now ripe for consideration. (Docs. 8, 10).

The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs, 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. Ramirez v. Barnard , 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. Barnard , 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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 her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

The Commissioner's regulations require her 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 her 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the ...


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