United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Tami Breeden, 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) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provision 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:
The application for DIB presently before this Court was protectively filed on May 7, 2007, alleging an inability to work since November 1, 2006, due to a back problem, hepatitis C, a heart problem, migraines, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, depression, and arthritis in the hands. (Tr. 223, 247, 314). An administrative hearing was held on May 15, 2009, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 36-61).
In a written decision dated December 14, 2009, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with limitations. (Tr. 90-98). On May 12, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case back to the ALJ for further review. (Tr. 104-108). The Appeals Council further noted that Plaintiff had filed subsequent DIB and SSI applications on February 22, 2010, which were to be associated with the applications already under review. (Tr. 107). In Plaintiff's subsequent applications, she alleged an inability to work due to back problems, hepatitis C, heart problems, and anxiety. (Tr. 361).
On April 19, 2012, a supplemental hearing before the ALJ was held, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 62-84). Plaintiff, through her counsel, amended her alleged onset date to April 30, 2007. (Tr. 14, 67). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through December 31, 2012. (Tr. 265).
By written decision dated May 25, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 17). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; headaches; osteoarthritis in the hands/wrists; hepatitis C; major depressive disorder and/or bipolar II disorder; anxiety disorder; pain disorder associated with both psychological factors and a general medical condition, chronic; and a personality disorder. However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, 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 found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the RFC to:
lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, sit six hours and stand/walk two hours. In addition, she can frequently handle and finger, and she can occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop and crouch.
Further, she can understand, remember and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks, respond to usual work situations and occasionally interact with supervisors, coworkers and the general public.
(Tr. 19). With the help of vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform work as a lamp shade assembler, a machine zipper trimmer, a copy examiner, a nut sorter, a tile table worker, and an escort vehicle driver. (Tr. 25).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on August 24, 2013. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision. (Doc. 1). Both parties filed appeal briefs, and this case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7; Doc. 12; Doc. 13).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
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 ...