United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division
TANYA E. WELLS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
Tanya E. Wells ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and a period of disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act.
Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2005), the Honorable Susan O. Hickey referred this case to the Honorable Barry A. Bryant for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. The Court, having reviewed the entire transcript and relevant briefing, recommends the ALJ's determination be AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on November 4, 2011. (Tr. 11, 106-114). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to cardiovascular disease, blockages in heart legs and aorta, high blood pressure, and hypothyoidism. (Tr. 148). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of October 31, 2011. (Tr. 148). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11, 52-58, 64-68). On March 6, 2012, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications. (Tr. 69-70). This hearing request was granted, and a hearing was held on October 17, 2012. (Tr. 22-47). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel, Denver Thornton. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") James Wallace testified at this hearing. Id. On the date of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-four (54) years old, which is defined as a "person closely approaching advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (2008), and had a high school education with two years of college. (Tr. 25).
On December 6, 2012, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 11-17). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since October 31, 2011. (Tr. 14, Finding 2).
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of peripheral vascular disease and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (Tr. 14, Finding 3). The ALJ also determined, however, that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 14, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"). (Tr. 14-16). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 15). Second, the ALJ determined, based upon this review of Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the hearing testimony, and the evidence in the record, Plaintiff retained the RFC for light work, except cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, and; can only occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, or crawl. (Tr. 14, Finding 5).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 16, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was able to perform her PRW as a convenience store manager. Id. The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had not been under a "disability, " as defined by the Act, at any time through the date of his decision. (Tr. 16, Finding 7).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On December 2, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On January 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 8, 9. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See 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 lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a "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 or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a "substantial gainful activity"; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at ...