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Luttrell v. Colvin

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

January 16, 2015

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


JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff 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 a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(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:

The plaintiff filed an applications for DIB on June 20, 2011, alleging an onset date of January 31, 2010, due to plaintiff's Post laminectomy Syndrome, Lumbosacral Radiculitis, Spondylosis of Lumbosacral Joint, Gout, Diabetes, and Depression (T. 180). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on September 10, 2012. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the administrative hearing, plaintiff was 61 years of age and possessed a 10th grade education. The Plaintiff had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a groundskeeper for a school district and manager of a self storage area (T. 181).

On November 30, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") concluded that, although severe, plaintiff's post-laminectomy syndrom, lumbar spine disorder, diabetes mellitus, type 2, obesity and hearing loss did not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. T. 15. The ALJ found that plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work except he can never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, and he can frequently bend, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He also determined that plaintiff could occasionally walk on uneven terrain, work at heights and operate foot controls with his left lower extremity, but he was limited to occupations that do not require fine hearing capability. T. 15. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ then determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work.

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. 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, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion:

The court has reviewed the Briefs filed by the Parties, the Transcript of the proceedings before the Commission, including a review of the hearing before the ALJ, the medical records, and relevant administrative records and finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

A. Severe Impairment:

The Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in failing to find that Plaintiff had a sever impairment involving his right shoulder. (ECF No. 7, p. 3). The Plaintiff bases this claim upon a report by a treating physician, Dr. Haghi, in 2008 that the Plaintiff had limitations in shoulder range (T. 396) and that he had medically imposed work restriction of not reaching above his shoulder with his right arm, lifting greater than 10 pounds or climbing ladders. (Id.). In February 2008, Plaintiff told Dr. Haghi that his shoulder was functional, that he was pleased with its recovery, and he wanted to return to full duty at work (Tr. 14, 394-95). The record reveals that Dr. Haghi noted that the "patient ...

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