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Peterson v. Colvin

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

December 22, 2014

HILARY HARRIS PETERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Hilary Harris Peterson ("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 her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), and a period of disability under Titles II and 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. 8.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

1. Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on September 28, 2011. (Tr. 10, 163-172). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to schizophrenia, anemia, depression, right arm, and back. (Tr. 199). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2010. (Tr. 163). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 73-80, 84-85). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 89).

Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on January 23, 2013. (Tr. 22-72). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Matthew Golden, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff, Medical Expert ("ME") Dr. Alvin Smith and Dr Charles Murphy, and Vocational Expert ("VE") Suzette Skinner testified at the hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was twenty-eight (28) years old, and had a GED. (Tr. 29).

On February 13, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 10-18). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2012. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since January 1, 2010. (Tr. 12, Finding 2).

The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of lumbar degenerative joint disease with some stenosis, level 2 obesity with a body mass index (BMI) ranging from 30 to 40.9, and anxiety (social phobia). (Tr. 12, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing 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 RFC. (Tr. 15-17). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work except should not crawl; should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; should avoid even moderate vibration; can understand, remember, and carry out only non-complex instructions, and should have only incidental contact with the public. (Tr. 14, Finding 5).

The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 17, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform her PRW as a general ledger bookkeeper. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 17-18, Finding 10). The ALJ based his determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a cleaner/housekeeper with approximately 16, 000 such jobs in Texas and 225, 000 such jobs in the nation, silver wrapper with approximately 6, 000 such jobs in Texas and 137, 000 such jobs in the nation, and photocopy machine operator with approximately 1, 600 such jobs in Texas and 18, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from January 1, 2010 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 18, Finding 11).

On January 6, 2014, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On February 13, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 22, 2014. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 16, 17. 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 ...


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