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Ralston v. Colvin

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

November 12, 2014

JOLEEN RALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Joleen Ralston, 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 her claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 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 SSI on April 26, 2010. (Tr. 12.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of April 26, 2010 due to learning disabilities. (Tr. 190.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on February 15, 2012 in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Clifford Shilling. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Vocational Expert ("VE") John Massey. Plaintiff's attorney requested a supplemental hearing to question the VE. (Tr. 248.) This was held on May 18, 2012. (Tr. 27.)

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 37 years old, and possessed a tenth grade education, all within the special education track. (Tr. 44.) The Plaintiff had past relevant work experience ("PRW") as fast food worker. (Tr. 21.)

On May 24, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: learning disorder and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 14.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following nonexertional limitations:

the claimant can only occasionally climb (ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds), kneel, and crouch; and no more than frequently balance, stoop, and crawl. Furthermore, the claimant is limited to work that requires no decision making, judgment, or interaction with the public; requires no more than occasional interaction with co-workers; and requires close supervision and instruction from supervisors, with supervisors checking her work four times per day.

(Tr. 16.) With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could perform such representative occupations as handpackager, conveyor feeder, and dishwasher. (Tr. 21-22.)

Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on July 27, 2012. (Tr. 8.) The Appeals Council declined review on April 26, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on June 21, 2013. (ECF. No. 1.) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 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. 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, ...


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