United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
KENNY D. BOWEN PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
HONORABLE ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Kenny D. Bowen, 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). 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 August 24, 2012, alleging an inability to work since August 17, 2012, due to depression, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), blindness in right eye, deafness, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 179-181, 217, 220). An administrative hearing was held on May 24, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and he and his wife testified. (Tr. 42-62). A supplemental hearing was held on September 6, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 63-73).
By written decision dated September 23, 2013, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe - COPD, hearing loss, mood disorder and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 27). However, 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 listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 28). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except that he cannot do work requiring excellent hearing, although he can hear well enough to receive simple, verbal instructions spoken directly to him. He must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants. He can understand, remember and carry out simple, routine and repetitive tasks. He can respond to usual work situations, routine work changes and supervision that is simple, direct and concrete. He can occasionally interact with coworkers and the public.
(Tr. 30). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would not be able to perform his past relevant work, but there were other jobs Plaintiff could perform, such as packing machine operator, press operator, and production line assembler. (Tr. 34-35).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which considered a medical record dated after the ALJ’s decision, and denied that request on January 15, 2014. (Tr. 1-4). 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 appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 12, 14).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
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 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)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner’s regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant had a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) met or equaled an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevented the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant was able to perform other work in the national economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact ...