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Foster v. Colvin

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

December 17, 2014

GEORGE B. FOSTER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

George B. Foster, Jr. ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

I. Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed his SSI application on March 21, 2011. (Tr. 11, 127). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to herniated discs in his back, right leg problems, a broken ankle, and knee problems. (Tr. 165). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of January 1, 2006.[2] (Tr. 11). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 57-58). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 73-84).

On July 20, 2012, this hearing was held in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 84-90). Plaintiff was present at this hearing and was represented by Greg Giles. (Tr. 23-56). Plaintiff, Vocational Expert ("VE") Dr. Anderson, and Medical Expert ("ME") Dr. Murphy[3] testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was forty-six (46) years old, which is defined as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (2008). (Tr. 31-32). Plaintiff also testified he completed the eleventh grade in high school but did not obtain his high school diploma. Id.

After the hearing, on August 7, 2012, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's SSI application. (Tr. 8-18). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since March 21, 2011, his application date. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, right foraminal stenosis at L4-5 and L5-SI, degenerative joint disease of the right knee, and Level I Obesity (BMI 33-66" tall and 205 pounds). (Tr. 13-14, Finding 2). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 14, Finding 3).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 14-17, Finding 4). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the following RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a restricted range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). He should not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He should not crawl. Other postural activities are limited to occasional. There are no manipulative, visual or communicative limits but he should avoid even moderate exposure to vibration or hazardous moving machinery.

Id.

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 17, Finding 5). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue and testified Plaintiff did not retain the capacity to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ then determined whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 17-18, Finding 9). The VE also testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Specifically, the VE testified, given his age, education, RFC, and work experience, Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of "99 percent of unskilled sedentary jobs."[4] (Tr. 18). Based upon this testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from March 21, 2011 until the date of his decision or until August 7, 2012. (Tr. 18, Finding 10).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council's review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 5). On September 27, 2013, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-3). On October 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on October 21, 2013. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 10-11. 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) (2010); 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), ...


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