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Cluer v. Colvin

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

March 19, 2015

JOHN A. CLUER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, John Cluer, 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 supplemental security income ("SSI") under the provisions of Title XVI 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. 7).[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 SSI on February 15, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 15, 2010, due to "low blood pressure; heart problems; extreme pain in neck and both shoulders; dizziness; and arthritis." (Tr. 80, 202, 216). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on December 19, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 97-129). A vocational expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 104-105).

On April 5, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 80-89). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "residual pain from left shoulder injury, neck pain, and alcoholism." (Tr. 82, 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. 82-84, Finding 3).

The ALJ next evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 84-88). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found he was not entirely credible. (Tr. 80-85). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(c). (T. 84, Finding 4). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work ("PRW") as a carpenter. (Tr. 88-89, Finding 5). The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 89, Finding 6).

On May 14, 2013, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which denied the request on August 19, 2012. (Tr. 1-6). On October 15, 2013, 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. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f) ; Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206. The fact finder only considers Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff argues on appeal the ALJ failed to (1) adequately develop the record, (2) determine Plaintiff had a severe mental impairment at Step Two, and (3) evaluate whether Plaintiff's alcohol abuse was a contributing factor in the disability determination. (ECF No. 12 at 13-19).

The record shows Plaintiff suffered from a combination of syncope episodes, hyperthyroidism, alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, back problems, and shoulder problems. (Tr. XXX-XXXXXX-XXX, 457, 541-543, 558-559, 577-579). The ALJ determined Plaintiff's severe impairments were shoulder pain, neck pain, and alcoholism, and found Plaintiff could perform medium work. (Tr. 82-84, Findings 3 and 4).

The ALJ did not adequately develop a record of Plaintiff's neck and shoulder problems, instead, the ALJ based his decision on the State non-examining consultants's opinions, without fully addressing the limitations they recommended. The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff could perform his PRW as a carpenter, which is ...

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