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Johnston v. Colvin

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

January 15, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Sherah Johnston, 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 her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the provisions of Titles II and XVI 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).[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 an application for DIB and SSI on August 22, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 1, 2011, due to seizures. (Tr. 147-149, 228). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2012. (Tr. 13, 228). Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on July 30, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 31-48). A Vocational Expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 42-48).

The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined Plaintiff had the severe impairment of "seizure disorder." (Tr. 14, 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. 17-18, Finding 4).

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 18-24). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found they were not entirely credible. (Tr. 19, 23-24). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to "perform a full range of work at all exertional levels as long as she avoids vibration, fumes, odors, hazards, heights, moving machinery or any work that requires commercial driving. In addition, the claimant may never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds." (T. 18, Finding 5).

With the help of a VE, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 23, 42-48). The ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her PRW as a cashier and department manager. (Tr. 24, Finding 6). The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 24-25, Finding 7).

Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on August 14, 2012, which denied the request on August 25, 2013. (Tr. 3-5). On October 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on December 3, 2013. (ECF No. 7). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 10, 11).

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. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough 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 to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it 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). 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 a claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation. She 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 her PRW; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are other jobs in the national economy 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 her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff raises the following arguments on appeal: the ALJ (1) failed to properly consider her non-exertional impairments in combination with her seizure disorder, (2) erred in his credibility determination, and (3) failed to pose a ...

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