United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
ERIC S. RUSSELL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Eric S. Russell, brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act, seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claim for a period of disability and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on July 18, 2011 (Tr. 25, 172) alleging an onset date of March 5, 2004 due to a ruptured disk in his lower back, severe anxiety, depression, back injury, neck injury, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 176). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on May 24, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 40-82). A Vocational Expert, ("VE") as well as Plaintiff's wife and friend were also present and testified. (Tr. 25).
The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, disc disorder of the cervical spine, and hypertension. (Tr. 27, Finding 2). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 28-29, Finding 3).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 29-33, Finding 4). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that they were not entirely credible. (Tr. 30). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in CFR 404.1567(a) except he can perform work where interpersonal contact is routine but superficial; complexity of tasks is learned by experience, several variable, uses judgment within limits; supervision required is little for routine but detailed for non-routine. (Tr. 29).
The ALJ found Plaintiff was forty-years old on his alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 21, Finding 6). Such an individual is defined as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). As for his level of education, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had at least a high school education and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 33, Finding 7).
With the help of a VE, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 76-82). The ALJ determined Plaintiff's PRW was as an auto glass tech, general laborer, and machine operator. (Tr. 33, 77-78, Finding 5). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34, Finding 9). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as fishing boat assembler, and was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34). The ALJ concluded the Plaintiff was not under a disability. (Tr. 34, Finding 10).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on August, 13, 2012 (Tr. 19-20), which denied that request on September 25, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 5, 2013. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. ECF Nos. 12, 13.
2. 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. ...