United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MARY A. HOBBS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Mary A. Hobbs, 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 her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the 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:
Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on August 2, 2011, alleging an onset date of December 31, 2009, due to diabetes, osteoporosis, problems with both knees, left shoulder, osteopenia, rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathy, scoliosis and bulging discs in her low back. (Tr. 115-121, 140) Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 57-59, 65-66) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and the hearing was held on March 26, 2012, before the Hon. Clifford Shilling, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 7-9, 23-54) Plaintiff was present and represented by her non-attorney representative, John Duty.
Plaintiff was 61 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 28) She graduated from high school, and then had a year of training as an LPN and graduated from LPN school. (Tr. 36) She had past relevant work (PRW) experience as a charge nurse at a nursing home from 1995 to 1998, and then she was a CNA instructor at a private career school/nursing home from 2000 to 2006. (Tr. 37, 156-164) Plaintiff last worked on January 31, 2006. She stopped working because she was laid off and did not get to return to work after unemployment benefits ran out. (Tr. 140)
In a Decision issued on July 26, 2012, the ALJ found: (1) that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2010; (2) that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 31, 2009 through her date last insured on December 31, 2010; (3) that through the date last insured, the Plaintiff had medically determinable impairments of osteopenia and arthritis; (4) that through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months, and therefore, Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments; and, (5) that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time from the alleged onset date of December 31, 2009 through the date last insured on December 31, 2010. (Tr. 13-18)
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on October 15, 2013. (Tr. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on December 13, 2013. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 12 and 13)
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 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).
A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.2001); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 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) and 1382(3)(c). A claimant must show that her disability, not simply her 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 application of a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his or her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given his or her age, education, and experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f)(2003). Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the claimant's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920 (2003).
The Court must determine whether substantial evidence, taking the record as a whole, supports the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled from the alleged date of onset on December 31, 2009 through the date last insured on December 31, 2010. Plaintiff raises four issues on appeal: (A) that Plaintiff has additional medically determinable impairments that were not addressed by the ALJ; (B) that Plaintiff's impairments are severe and pre-date her date last insured; (C) that the ALJ's negative credibility determination of Plaintiff's testimony was ...