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Teel v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

March 13, 2015

STEVEN TEEL, PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ERIN L. SETSER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff, Steven Teel, 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 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 applications for DIB and SSI on August 26, 2011, alleging disability since June 19, 2010, due to “mitro valve prolapse, disc herniation and annular tear, depression, explosive disorder, syncopal, neck, and memory loss.” (Tr. 10, 54, 228). An administrative hearing was held on August 29, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 49-80).

By a written decision dated December 7, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “mitro valve prolapse, knee problems, back problems, neck problems, high blood pressure, and memory loss.” (Tr. 12). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment in the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 12-14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except:

he can occasionally climb ramps/stairs and ladders/ropes/scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. From a mental standpoint, he 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.

(Tr. 14).

With the help of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work (“PRW”) as a production worker. (Tr. 17, 74-78). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 17).

Plaintiff next requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on October 22, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1).

This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 10, Doc. 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. 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 his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him from engaging in 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his 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 claim; (2) whether the claimant has 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 age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. ...


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