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Brown v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

March 20, 2015

MELISSA BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Melissa Brown ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and a period of disability under Title II of the 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. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

1. Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on June 24, 2011. (Tr. 11, 108-112). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to ruptured disc in back and neck, pain in arm and knee, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 108-112, 130). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of June 12, 2011. (Tr. 11, 108). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 11). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 59).

Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 13, 2013. (Tr. 33-50). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Greg Giles, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Lakedra Parker testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-seven (47) years old and had a high school education along with a license for certified nursing assistant. (Tr. 35-36).

On April 10, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 11-26). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since June 12, 2011. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairment of obesity; depression; anxiety; right knee arthritis and residuals from surgery; cervical degenerative changes and residuals from two surgeries; and lumbar degenerative disc disease and residuals from surgery. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 16, Finding 4).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 18-24). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC for sedentary work but should avoid climbing, using ladders, ropes, and scaffolding; cold and heat extremes; humidity and wet environments; vibrations, fumes, odors, and hazardous machinery; could not crawl or perform overhead reaching bilaterally; was limited to frequent handling and fingering; has the ability to understand, carry out, and remember short and simple tasks and instructions; and should have occasional contact with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors. (Tr. 18).

The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 24, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ however determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 25, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (Tr. 46-49). Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the ability to perform other work such as an order clerk with 3, 200 such jobs in the Arkansas and 185, 000 such jobs in the nation, change account clerk with 1, 400 such jobs in the Arkansas and 180, 000 such jobs in the nation, and optical goods worker with 1, 800 such jobs in the Arkansas and 135, 000 such jobs in the nation. (Tr. 25). Given this, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Act from June 12, 2011 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 26, Finding 11).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On March 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on March 26, 2014. ECF No. 5. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 10, 11. This case is now ready for decision.

2. Applicable Law:

In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See 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 or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a "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 his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He 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 Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at ...


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