United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
ROBERT E. HARRIS JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Robert E. Harris, Jr., brings this action pursuant to § 405(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act, seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claim for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act ("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. 7). Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on March 9, 2011 (Tr. 96, 221), alleging an onset date of January 1, 2010, due to "right ankle reconstruction, lumbar back pain, torn ligaments in left knee, and a heart attack." (Tr. 224). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through June 30, 2011. (Tr. 62, 96, 98). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on July 7, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 109-139). A Vocational Expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 134).
The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypertension, ankle and knee problems, and depression. (Tr. 98, Finding 3). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listing. (Tr. 98-99, Finding 4).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 100-102, Finding 5). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that they were not entirely credible. (Tr. 100). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can perform work limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks involving only simple, work related decisions, with few, if any, workplaces changes, and no more than incidental contact with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public. (T. 100).
The ALJ found Plaintiff was forty-one years old on his alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 102, Finding 7). Such an individual is defined as a younger individual under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had a limited education and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 102, Finding 8).
With the help of a VE, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 134-139). The ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any PRW. (Tr. 102, Finding 6). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 103, Finding 10). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as food prep worker/cooker helper and routing clerk/conveyor belt. (Tr. 103, 134). The ALJ concluded the Plaintiff was not under a disability. (Tr. 103, Finding 11).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on November 26, 2012 (Tr. 192), which denied that request on October 31, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). On December 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 5, 2013. (ECF No. 7). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 10, 13).
II. Applicable Law:
The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 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. "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." Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 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).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses a 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 RFC to perform his PRW; 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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f) ; Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206. The fact finder only considers the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
Plaintiff raises the following arguments on appeal: the ALJ (1) failed to develop the record, (2) erred in determining Plaintiff's severe impairments, (3) erred in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility, and (4) ...