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Pruitt v. Colvin

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

February 23, 2015

STEVEN D. PRUITT, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Steven D. Pruitt, brings this action under 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 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 January 7, 2011, alleging an onset date of August 20, 1981, due to head injury, memory loss and paralysis. (T. 53) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 2-4, 32-34, 36-38) Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held on July 24, 2012. A supplemental hearing was held on December 3, 2012, where a vocational expert testified.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 59 years of age and graduated from high school. (T. 53) Plaintiff served in the United States Marine Corps from May 22, 1972 to May 31, 1982. (Plaintiff Appeal Brief (Pl.'s Br) Ex. A pg. 1)

On January 17, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Edward M. Starr, found Plaintiff's organic brain syndrome and shoulder disorder were severe. Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of his impairments, the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ determined the Plaintiff could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b), except the Plaintiff cannot perform overhead work on the non-dominant side. He is able to understand, remember and carry out simple routine and repetitive tasks. He can respond to usual work situations and routine work situations and can respond to supervision that is simple, direct and concrete. He is able to interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff would be capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (T. 13-16)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on February 2, 2014. (T. 2-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on February 26, 2014. (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. 12 and 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. Banhart, 292 F.3d. 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's decision." Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). "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. Asture, 495 F.3d 617, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). The AJL'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). The Court considers the evidence that "supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's decision, and we will not reverse simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Hamilton v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2008). 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 at 1068.

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 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 impairments, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

If such an impairment exists, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has demonstrated that he is unable to perform either his past relevant work, or any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (20 C.F.R. §416.945). The ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. (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. §404.150, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion:

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 August 20, 1981. Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ did not fully and fairly develop the record; and, (B) the ALJ's RFC determination is inconsistent with the record. (Doc. 12, pp. ...

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