United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. SETTER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Tracey Lynn Hamilton, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II 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 her current application for DIB on June 17, 2010, alleging an inability to work since December 1, 2006, due to back problems, depression, insomnia, and migraines. (Tr. 131-132, 149, 153). An administrative hearing was held on April 25, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 38-81).
By written decision dated June 29, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments - degenerative disc disease/degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine and major depression. (Tr. 26). 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. 27). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she was able to only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She was unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and had to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards including no driving as part of work. The claimant was further limited to 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 was simple, direct, and concrete.
(Tr. 28). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, but there were other jobs Plaintiff would be able to perform, such as housekeeper, routing clerk/mail sorter; assembly worker/production worker, e.g. compact assembler; and a machine operator, e.g. zipper trimmer machine operator. (Tr. 32-34).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on August 1, 2013. (Tr. 3-5). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 9, 10).
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. Barnard, 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. Barnard, 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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 her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner's regulations require her 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 her 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider ...