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Suter v. Colvin

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

February 9, 2015

KRISTA NICOLE SUTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Krista Suter, 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 supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(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 SSI on April 13, 2012, alleging an onset date of April 13, 2012, due to scoliosis, pinched nerves, obesity, diabetes, migraines, and bilateral underarm abscesses (hidradenitis). Tr. 142-143, 160-163. Her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 42-43. An administrative hearing was held on December 10, 2012. Tr. 25-52. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 21 years old and possessed the equivalent of a high school education. Tr. 26. She had no past relevant work ("PRW") experience. Tr. 16. At the age of 16, she worked at Sonic for about 6 months. Tr. 132-141. And, although she completed the classes to become a certified nurse's aide and worked in a nursing home for approximately two months, she had to quit because she could not get her certification. Tr. 28. The Plaintiff was also unable to pass the test to get a driver's license. Tr. 31-32.

On August 17, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff's migraine headaches and underarm abscesses to be severe, but concluded they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Tr. 11-12. The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff could perform a full range of light work. Tr. 12. Utilizing the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the "Grids"), the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 16.

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on December 24, 2013. Tr. 1-4. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This matter is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF Nos. 12, 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. 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her from engaging in any 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 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 or her disability, not simply their 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 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. 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).

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not fully develop the record; failed to consider all of the Plaintiff's severe impairments; determined an RFC that is inconsistent with the record; and, inappropriately applied the grids. The court has reviewed the briefs filed by the parties, the transcript of the proceedings before the Commission, including a review of the hearing before the ALJ, the medical ...


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