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Robinson v. Colvin

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

November 4, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Stuart G. Robinson, 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 disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI 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

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on September 30, 2008. (Tr. 138, 242.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 1997 due to Bipolar Disorder, high blood pressure, right shoulder injury with arthritis, arthritis in neck, Hepatitis C, irregular heartbeat and enlarged heart, fibrosis of liver, chronic tuberculosis (now arrested), hiatal hernia, GERD, and drug and alcohol addiction. (Tr. 138, 274-75.)

On April 22, 2010, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Edward Starr rendered an unfavorable decision after conducting a hearing on January 25, 2010. (Tr. 56, 135-37.) Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Lynn Wilburn, a witness for Plaintiff, as well as Vocational Expert (VE) Patricia Kent. (Tr. 56.)

On November 7, 2011 the Appeals Council ("AC") remanded the case. (Tr. 153.) On remand, the ALJ was to address the following issues: 1) the Plaintiff's date last insured was to be adjusted to June 30, 2006; 2) the ALJ was to address whether the Martinez v. Astrue Court Case Settlement Rules applied regarding the fugitive felon issue; 3) the ALJ was to consider escalation of the case to the hearing level; 4) the ALJ should reevaluate claimant's application through the new date last insured; 5) the ALJ should clarify the effect of assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base using hypothetical questions that reflected the specific capacity as established by the record as a whole. (Tr. 155-56.)

An administrative-hearing was held on May 30, 2012 in front of ALJ Starr. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Plaintiff's witness Remy Segura and Vocational Expert ("VE") Monty Lumpkin. (Tr. 92.)

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 49 years old, possessed a GED obtained after dropping out of school in the tenth grade, and had completed one year of college. (Tr. 282, 684.) Plaintiff enlisted in the Army for three years active service in 1980, then was four years disabled retired for tuberculosis. He then reenlisted for another three years, and was honorably discharged in 1990. (Tr. 684, 1658.) Plaintiff had past relevant work experience ("PRW") as a truck driver and drywall finisher. (Tr. 147.)

On July 6, 2012, ALJ Starr concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease, mood disorder, personality disorder and substance abuse disorder. (Tr. 12.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to

lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sit six hours in an eight-hour workday and stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday. In addition, he can only occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, crouch and stoop, and he can frequently do overhead work with his dominant (right) upper extremity. In addition, he can understand, remember and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks. He can respond to usual work situations and ordinary work changes and respond to supervision that is simple, direct and concrete. He can occasionally interact with supervisors, coworkers and the general public.

(Tr. 16.) With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could perform such representative occupations as light unskilled machine tender, with representative samplings of compression molding machine tender, leather riveting machine operator, and bindery machine feeder and off-bearer. Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the job category of light unskilled production/assembly workers, with representative samplings to include bottling line attendant, toy assembler, and conveyor line bakery worker. (Tr. 21.)

Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on July 25, 2012. (Tr. 5.) The Appeals Council declined review on August 19, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on October 16, 2014. (ECF. No. 1.) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 11, 12.)

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 the court finds it possible "to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence, and one of those positions represents the Secretary's findings, the court 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 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. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

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 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 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, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff raises one issue on appeal: that the ALJ erred in not engaging in the proper analysis required when substance abuse is a significant factor. (Pl.'s Br. at 11.) Defendant argues that because the ALJ properly found that the Plaintiff was not disabled even with the effects of his substance abuse included, it was ...

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