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Willis v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

February 4, 2015

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


MARK FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Timothy Willis, 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 his 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"). 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on December 7, 2010, alleging an inability to work since July 1, 2010, due to "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), back problems, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, enlarged liver, and general medical problems." (Tr. 59, 255) For DIB purposes, Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2014. (Tr. 59, 251). Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 128-134, 138-141). An administrative hearing was held on July 23, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 77-123).

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was forty-five years of age and possessed a limited education. (Tr. 69). Plaintiff had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a truck mechanic, service manager, farm mechanic, and farm laborer. (Tr. 68, 119-120).

By a written decision dated November 16, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "disorder of his left knee, COPD, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, and hypertension." (Tr. 61). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 64-65). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.067(a)." (T. 65). With the help of a Vocational Expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his PRW. (Tr. 68-69). Based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines ("Grids") rules 201.19 and 201.20, the ALJ determined there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 69). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability during the relevant time period. (Tr.69).

Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on December 31, 2012, which denied that request on December 27, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7). Both parties have filed appeals briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 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 his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him 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), 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 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 the 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 RFC. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion

Plaintiff argues on appeal that the ALJ (1) failed to adequately develop the record, (2) should have included depression as a severe impairment at step two, (3) erred in determining Plaintiff's RFC, and (4) erred by relying on the Grids.

The Court is concerned the ALJ incorrectly assessed Plaintiff's RFC and errantly relied on the Grids because Plaintiff's RFC was significantly ...

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