United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
BRENDA L. HANSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MARK FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Brenda Hanson, 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
Plaintiff protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on May 20, 2010, alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2006, due to osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, and arthritis. (Tr. 257-260). Plaintiff amended her onset date to January 30, 2009, at her administrative hearing. (Tr. 13, 34, 57-58). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retained insured status through September 30, 2010. (Tr. 15, 258).
Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 109-115, 123-127). An administrative hearing was held on March 8, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared without counsel and testified. (Tr. 60-82). On May 11, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 90-99). The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision on November 18, 2011, and remanded the case. (Tr. 104-107).
A second administrative hearing was held on July 12, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. At the time of the second hearing, Plaintiff was forty-nine years of age and possessed a limited education. (Tr. 32). Plaintiff had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a cashier and factory worker. (Tr. 21, 65-66).
By a written decision dated October 11, 2012, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "disorder of the back and mood disorder." (Tr. 15). 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 listing. (Tr. 15-17). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can occasionally climb ramps/stairs and ladders/ropes/scaffolds and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. From a mental standpoint, she is able to perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed; the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment; and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete.
With the help of a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work ("PRW"), but retained the capacity to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as food prep worker/kitchen helper, maid/housekeeper, and machine operator. (Tr. 21-22, 54-57). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability during the relevant time period. (Tr. 22).
Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council of the second decision on November 5, 2012, which denied that request on November 29, 2013. (Tr. 1-4, 8). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 8). Both parties have filed appeals briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12).
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 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); 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)©. A Plaintiff ...