United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
CHARLES R. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Charles R. Johnson, 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 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 filed his application for DIB on August 15, 2012, initially alleging an onset date of April 26, 2011, which was subsequently amended to March 4, 2011, due to Plaintiff's back, arthritis, numbness in legs and feet, and Scheuermann's disease. (T. 98-100, 106-107, 125) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 59-61, 63-64) Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on February 5, 2013. Plaintiff was present and waived representation by counsel. (T. 97)
At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 25 years of age and graduated from high school. (T. 27-28) The Plaintiff had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a sales associate at a farm and home store, as an unloader at Wal-Mart, as a care-giver for his grandfather, as a janitor, and as a sub-contractor cleaning parks. (T. 30-31, 175). Plaintiff also had brief military service, having enlisted in the Army National Guard on February 15, 2011, and being honorably discharged on April 26, 2011. (T. 28-29, 185)
In a Decision issued on August 9, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Harold D. Davis, found that although Plaintiff has the following severe impairments, status post kidney stones and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and spondylosis of the L5-S1 vertebra (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)), Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). (T. 12-13). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (T. 13-16) With the assistance of a vocational expert, Sarah Moore, the ALJ determined that while Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, Plaintiff could perform the requirements of such representative occupations as cashier, fast food worker, clerical worker, and assembler. (T. 16-18, 38-39) The ALJ then concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 4, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's Decision on August 9, 2013. (T. 18)
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on November 7, 2013. (T. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on December 30, 2013. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 8) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 11 and 12)
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).
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 application of 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).
The Court must determine whether substantial evidence, taking the record as a whole, supports the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff has not been disabled from the alleged date of onset on March 4, 2011. Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's RFC is unsupported by substantial evidence; (B) the ALJ's negative credibility determination of Plaintiff's testimony was insufficient and improper; and, (C) the ALJ should have given more thorough consideration to whether Plaintiff's severe impairments met or are medically equivalent to ...