United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
BRIAN K. CROSS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Brian Cross, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(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 applications for DIB and SSI on October 12, 2010, alleging an onset date of August 20, 2010, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), sleep apnea, hernias, chronic pain in left testicle, chronic pain in left leg, irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"), depression, high blood pressure, bacteria in prostate, heart problems, low testosterone, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), hiatal hernia, gastritis, bile reflux, duodenitis, internal hemorrhoids, and colon polyps. Tr. 12, 139-151, 178, 193. The Commissioner denied his application initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 70-76, 79-87, 89-94. At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held an administrative hearing on September 25, 2012. Tr. 33-69. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 45 years old and possessed a high school education and vocational/technical training in heating/air conditioning. Tr. 26, 38, 40, 179, 193. He had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as an automobile part delivery driver and factory tagger. Tr. 26, 59, 166-176, 196-203.
On October 31, 2012, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's GERD, IBS, status post bilateral inguinal hernia repair, status post left rotator cuff repair, chronic enterococcal epididymitis, testosterone deficiency, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, COPD, and depression were severe, but concluded they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Tr. 12-14. He concluded that the Plaintiff could perform light work with a sit/stand option allowing a change in position every 30 minutes and involving routine and repetitive tasks and frequent interaction with supervisors and co-workers. Tr. 17. The ALJ further limited the Plaintiff to occasional overhead reaching bilaterally, no climbing of ladder or scaffolds, no crawling, and no exposure to temperature extremes. Tr. 17. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ found the Plaintiff could perform work as an office helper, information clerk, and call out operator. Tr. 26-27.
The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on January 23, 2014. Tr. 1-8. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF Nos. 14, 15.
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. We must affirm the ALJ's decision 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, we must affirm the decision of the ALJ. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
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 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 his or her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a 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 his or her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)-(f)(2003). The fact finder considers the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity, only if he reaches the final stage. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
The ALJ's RFC determination is of great concern to the undersigned. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a "claimant's residual functional capacity is a medical question." Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). Adequate medical evidence must therefore exist that addresses the claimant's ability to function in the workplace. See Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003). The ALJ cannot make medical judgments regarding the ability or disability of a claimant to engage in gainful activity, and the clinical findings must support any inferences he makes. McGhee v. Harris, 683 F.2d 256 (8th Cir. 1982).
The Plaintiff suffers from a variety of impairments including chronic enterococcal epididymitis, chronic prostatitis, the residuals of a torn left rotator cuff status post surgical repair, and chronic pain in the back, left leg, and left knee. In the early 1990's, the Plaintiff developed testicular pain resulting in bilateral inguinal hernia repair in 1993. The pain returned in July 2001, at which time his urologist diagnosed him with epididymitis. Following treatment via antibiotics, his symptoms persisted. In September 2001, the Plaintiff underwent the removal of a left hydrocele via laparoscopy. He subsequently developed pain in the scrotal area, and a ...