United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Kellye Michelle McGarrah, 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 and 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 filed her current applications for DIB and SSI on September 2, 2009, alleging an inability to work since July 24, 2009, due to asthma, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, loss of memory, loss of concentration and focus, and fatigue. (Tr. 108-109, 120, 124). An administrative hearing was held on November 15, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 26-48).
By written decision dated February 1, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/asthma and a bipolar disorder. (Tr. 15). 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. 16). The ALJ found that 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 should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation (a relatively clean environment) and she can perform only simple, repetitive tasks with limited contact with the public.
(Tr. 17). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff would be unable to perform her past relevant work, but that there were other jobs Plaintiff would be able to perform, such as mail room clerk, assembler, clerical mailer, and trimmer. (Tr. 19-20).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on May 30, 2013. (Tr. 1-5). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 15, 16).
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. Barnard, 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. Barnard, 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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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 her disability, not simply her 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 had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §416.920.
Plaintiff raises the following arguments in this matter: 1) Plaintiff Meets Listing 3.02A and 3.03; 2) The ALJ erred in his analysis of Plaintiff’s mental impairment; 3) The ALJ erred in his RFC assessment; 4) The ALJ erred in his credibility analysis; and 5) The Plaintiff is unable to perform the jobs identified by the ALJ. (Doc. 15).
A. Whether Plaintiff Meets a Listing:
Plaintiff argues that she meets Listing 3.02A and 3.03. “The claimant has the burden of proving that his impairment meets or equals a listing.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). “To meet a listing, an impairment must meet all of the listing’s specified criteria.” Id. “To establish equivalency, a claimant ‘must present medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the one most similar listed impairment.’” Carlson v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2010), quoting from Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 531 (1990). “[W]hen determining medical equivalency, an impairment can be considered alone or in combination with other impairments.” Carlson, 604 F.3d at 595.
Listing 3.02A reads as follows:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, due to any cause, with the FEV1 equal to or less than the values specified in table I corresponding to the person’s height without shoes. ...