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Seipel v. Colvin

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

November 18, 2014

TAMMY JEAN SEIPEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Tammy Jean Seipel, 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 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 February 6, 2011. (Tr. 11.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of May 20, 2007 due to anxiety/depression disorder, two herniated discs, and arthritis in her spine. (Tr. 170.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on April 5, 2012 in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Glenn Neel. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Vocational Expert ("VE") Sarah Moore. (Tr. 32.)

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 32 years old, and possessed a high school diploma. (Tr. 36.)The Plaintiff had past relevant work experience ("PRW") as a motel cleaner, fast food worker, tool crib attendant, and waitress. (Tr. 25.)

On July 2, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with chronic lower back pain, chondromalacia of the left knee, and bilateral meniscal tears status post-surgical repair. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work, except that she can only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl and needs to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including au inability to drive as part of the job. (Tr. 15.) With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could perform such representative occupations as clerical worker, machine tender, and various unskilled assembler-type jobs. (Tr. 26.)

Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on August 31, 2012. (Tr. 5.) The Appeals Council declined review on August 9, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on October 8, 2013. (ECF. No. 1.) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 10, 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 his overall RFC determination based on Plaintiff's documented history of chronic back pain, knee surgeries, and testimony. (Pl.'s Br. 14.) Because the ALJ correctly discredited Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain, this Court disagrees.

The ALJ discredited Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain because the "amount of back pain being alleged in not consistent with the limited clinical findings. (Tr. 24.) This is a permissible reason to discredit a Plaintiff's subjective allegations provided it is not the sole reason. See Forte v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 892, 895 (8th Cir. ...


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