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Hill v. Colvin

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

November 24, 2014

MICHAEL D. HILL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Michael D. Hill, 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") Title II (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 on November 12, 2010. (Tr. 9.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of April 22, 2010 due to right wrist problems (carpal tunnel, tendonitis, infection), "spars in neck, " and depression. (Tr. 127.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on November 9, 2011 in front of Eliaser Chaparro. (Tr. 24.) Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Jennifer Hill (Plaintiff's wife) and Vocational Expert ("VE") Diane Smith. (Tr. 24.)

At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 32 years old, and possessed a high school diploma, special education track. He also had votech training in welding. (Tr. 28.)The Plaintiff had past relevant work experience ("PRW") of trailer welder, hand sander, hand trimmer, construction worker, and sawmill laborer. (Tr. 18.)

On April 13, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease (mild), and right carpal tunnel syndrome; status post carpal tunnel release; and obesity. (Tr. 11.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with no mental limitations and "no frequent grasping, or handling with the right upper extremity." (Tr. 13.)

With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could perform such representative occupations as bakery line worker and machine tender. (Tr. 19.)

Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on April 24, 2102. (Tr. 5.) The Appeals Council declined review on July 15, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on August 6, 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, 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 two issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence because "the questioning and testimony of the vocational expert essentially revealed that no jobs existed that Michael can perform with one useful, non-dominant upper extremity;" and 2) the ALJ erred by failing to consider medication side effects in his credibility analysis. (Pl.'s Br. 14.) Because the only Physical RFC in the record predates Plaintiff's diagnosis of MRSA-induced osteomyelitis and ...

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