United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
TERRY L. WATKINS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Terry L. Watkins, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §495(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on March 28, 2011, alleging an inability to work since December 31, 2010, due to heart condition; Hodgkin's disease; thyroid issues; PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); gout; acid reflux; and sleep apnea. (Tr. 140-142, 148-154, 167, 171). An administrative hearing was held on May 3, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 44-74).
By written decision dated September 21, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe-coronary artery disease status post coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, essential hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypothyroidism, chronic neck and back pain, residuals of three knee surgeries, history of Hodgkin's disease status post radiation and chemotherapy, depression, not otherwise specified (NOS)/adjustment disorder, anxiety disorder/post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol abuse/dependence in reported partial remission (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). (Tr. 12). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, 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 found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 12-13). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant is able to only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. In addition, he must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including driving as a part of work. Nonexertionally, 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 use of little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete.
(Tr. 15). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff was not able to perform any past relevant work, but that there were other jobs Plaintiff would be able to perform, such as light work as a routing clerk-conveyor belt (e.g. a mail package sorter and assembler/production worker), and sedentary work as a machine operator or tender and production assembler (e.g. lens inserter-optical). (Tr. 21-22).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on November 4, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). 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 appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 15, 16).
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. 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. 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 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)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner's regulations require him 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 his 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 his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his RFC. See McCoy v. Schneider, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §416.920.
Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ erred in his credibility determination; 2) The ALJ erred in his RFC determination; 3) The ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff could ...