United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Chief Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, James Preston Shields, 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 January 11, 2011. (Tr. 8.) Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2002 due to a broken neck, depression, he hears voices, he is suicidal, and an inability to handle stress and anxiety. (Tr. 232.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on September 7, 2012 in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Edward M. Starr. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. (Tr. 30.). A second hearing was held on December 3, 2012 in front of ALJ Starr in order to obtain additional vocational evidence. Plaintiff was present to testify and was represented by counsel. The ALJ also heard testimony from Vocational Expert ("VE") Larry Seifert. (Tr. 21.)
At the time of the first administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 49 years old, and possessed an eighth grade education, special education track. (Tr. 38, 43.)The Plaintiff had no past relevant work experience ("PRW"). (Tr. 14.)
On January 24, 2013, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: neck pain, mood disorder, and substance addiction disorder. (Tr. 10.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity to:
occasionally lift/carry 50 pounds and frequently 25 pounds. He can sit for 6 ours and stand/walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He can occasionally work overhead bilaterally. He can understand, remember, and carry out simple routine tasks. He can respond to supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete. He can occasionally interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public.
(Tr. 11-12.) With the assistance of the VE, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could perform such representative occupations as kitchen helper, machine packer, and warehouse worker. (Tr. 15.)
Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council on January 31, 2013. (Tr. 4.)The Appeals Council denied the appeal on November 22, 2013. (Tr. 1.) Plaintiff filed this appeal on December 17, 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, ...