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Sutton v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

March 4, 2015

BOBBY P. SUTTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Bobby Sutton, 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 his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. (ECF No. 5).[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

I. Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed his application for DIB on May 17, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 18, 2010, due to neck problems, high blood pressure, a right hip problem, numbness in his hands, and a left eye injury. (Tr. 24, 181-185). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retains insured status through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 26, Finding 1). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on September 13, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 42-75). A Vocational Expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 70-74).

On November 30, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 24-36). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "spine disorder, loss of visual acuity, hypertension and morbid obesity." (Tr. 26, Finding 3). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listing. (Tr. 28-29, Finding 4).

The ALJ next evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr.29-34). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found he was not entirely credible. (Tr. 30-31). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). The claimant can lift and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. The claimant can stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour work day. The clamant can sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, bend, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb stairs. The claimant can never climb ladders. The claimant can use either arm only occasionally for overhead reaching. The claimant has a limited visual field on the left, but can see with corrective lenses. The claimant must avoid extreme heat and jobs that require driving.

(T. 29, Finding 5).

With the help of a VE, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 34, 70). The ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any PRW. (Tr. 34, Finding 6). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 35-36, 70-74). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of the representative occupation of general office clerk. (Tr. 35, Finding 10). The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 36, Finding 11).

Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council on December 7, 2012, which denied the request on January 23, 2014. (Tr. 2-6). On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on March 11, 2014. (ECF No. 5). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 10, 11).

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 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 to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record to support 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).

To determine whether a claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation. She determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the RFC to perform his PRW; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are other jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...

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