United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
TONYA N. McCOY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Tonya McCoy, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 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 January 24, 2011, alleging an inability to work since December 15, 2009 due to "rheumatoid arthritis, right ankle injury, left wrist injury, and right arm injury." (Tr. 195, 198). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff's date last insured was March 31, 2011. (Tr. 11). Her claim was initially denied on May 20, 2011, and denied upon reconsideration on August 9, 2011. (89-91, 93-96). An administrative hearing was held on October 23, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 40-86). By a written decision dated November 9, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that during the relevant time period Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: rheumatoid arthritis; chronic multi-joint pain; obesity; and anemia. (Tr. 11). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 11-12). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except:
"she could occasionally climb ramps/stairs, could never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, and could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She could do no overhead work or reaching bilaterally. She could occasionally reach in all other directions bilaterally and could occasionally handle bilaterally." (Tr. 12).
With the help of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work ("PRW"), but Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as telephone assembler and information clerk. (Tr. 15-16, 47-48). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 16).
Plaintiff next requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on December 5, 2013. (Tr. 1-3). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1).This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 12; Doc. 15).
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. 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 physical or mental disability 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); see also 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her RFC.
Plaintiff raises the following arguments on appeal: The ALJ erred (1) by not considering all of her impairments in combination, (2) by discounting her subjective complaints ...