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Owen v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

February 17, 2015

MICHELLE D. OWEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Michelle Owen, 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, 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

In a prior action, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on January 29, 2010, alleging disability since January 5, 2009, due to "bad back, left shoulder and left arm, feet, and depression." (Tr. 60). An administrative hearing was held on December 17, 2010, and on June 23, 2011, an ALJ ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision on Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 60-70). Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on May 24, 2012. (Tr. 79-81). Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision on June 26, 2012. On August 21, 2013, Judge P. K. Holmes entered a decision dismissing Plaintiff's complaint and affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Owen v. Colvin, No. 12-cv-3071, 2013 WL 4498756 (W.D. Ark. Aug 21, 2013).

Following the Commissioner's unfavorable decision in her earlier case, Plaintiff filed new applications for DIB and SSI on July 7, 2011, which is the subject of this matter. In her applications, she alleged an inability to work since January 5, 2009, due to a bad back, left shoulder and left arm problems, depression, problems in both knees, and arthritis. (Tr. 9, 214). At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff amended her onset date to June 24, 2011. (Tr. 9, 29-30). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retained insured status through September 30, 2013. (Tr. 11, 180).

Her new claims were initially denied on August 31, 2011, and denied upon reconsideration on January 11, 2012. (Tr. 86-89, 97-99). An administrative hearing was held on September 4, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 26-56). The ALJ refused to reopen Plaintiff's first application and stated that the previous decision was the "final decision of the Social Security Administration on the claimant's claims through that date." (Tr. 9).

By a written decision dated December 28, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "degenerative joint disease of the thoracolumbar spine status post remote surgery, history of left fibula fracture, osteoarthritis of the feet, and left shoulder impingement with probable rotator cuff tear." (Tr. 12). 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. (Tr. 13-14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work except:

the claimant is able to only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, and cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant also cannot perform work overhead and is limited to frequent but not constant reaching in all other directions with the non-dominant left hand. (Tr. 14).

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 lens inserter and zipper trimmer machine operator. (Tr. 18-19, 51-55). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 20).

Plaintiff next requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on November 8, 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. 7). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 11, Doc. 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).

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 ...


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