United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
LEWIS D. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Lewis D. Anderson, 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") 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 21, 2012. (Tr. 10.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2008 due to depression, anxiety, lower back problems, knee problems, cysts on chest, psoriasis, and panic attacks. (Tr. 139.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on November 5, 2012 in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Ronald L. Burton. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Vocational Expert ("VE") Debra Steele. (Tr. 24.) Plaintiff amended his onset date to October 1, 2009 at the hearing. (Tr. 29.)
At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 48 years old, and possessed a GED. (Tr. 27.) The Plaintiff had past relevant work experience ("PRW") as a general laborer and bricklayer apprentice. (Tr. 18.)
On November 21, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: disorder of the back, disorder of the knees, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work, "except that he can perform work where interpersonal contact is routine but superficial, the complexity of tasks is learned by experience and involves several variables and the use of judgment within limits and the supervision required is little for routine tasks but detailed for nonroutine tasks." (Tr. 15.) After eliciting testimony from the VE regarding Plaintiff's PRW, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing his PRW as a general laborer and brick layer apprentice. (Tr. 18.)
Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on December 3, 2012. (Tr. 6.) The Appeals Council declined review on October 9, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on November 21, 2013. (ECF. No. 1.) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 13, 14.)
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).
Plaintiff raises four issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ did not fully and fairly develop the record; 2) the ALJ did not include all of Plaintiff's severe impairments; 3) the ALJ's RFC determination is inconsistent with the record; and 4) the ALJ failed to ask the VE if Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work. (ECF. 13 at 6-14.)
Because Plaintiff's medical history is pertinent to each of these arguments, it will be summarized here prior to ...