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Lane v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

April 14, 2015

MINNIE JEAN LANE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Minnie Jean Lane ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and a period of disability under Title XVI of the Act.

Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2005), the Honorable Susan O. Hickey referred this case to the Honorable Barry A. Bryant for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. The Court, having reviewed the entire transcript and relevant briefing, recommends the ALJ's determination be AFFIRMED.

1. Background:

Plaintiff's application for SSI was filed on May 16, 2012. (Tr. 9, 109-114). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to bipolar disorder, back problems, hip pain, history of suicidal thoughts, and paranoia. (Tr. 125). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2012. (Tr. 9). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 50-51). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 64-65).

Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on May 7, 2013. (Tr. 26-49). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Denver Thornton, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Myrtle Johnson testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty (50) years old, which is defined as a "person closely approaching advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d), and had completed the eighth grade. (Tr. 30-32).

On July 25, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. (Tr. 9-21). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since May 16, 2012. (Tr. 11, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of reactive airway disease; chest pain of uncertain etiology; obesity; major depressive disorder; and bipolar II with psychotic features. (Tr. 11, Finding 2). 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. 11, Finding 3).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 13-20). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. The ALJ also found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform full range of work at all levels with non-exertional limitations of only occasional contact with concentrations of dust, fumes, gases, odor, smoke, poor ventilation or airborne irritants; must avoid hazards like machinery and unprotected heights; could not perform work in a noisy environment; and could not work without an option to sit/stand at will; limited to unskilled work which requires the ability to understand, retain and carry out simple instructions; make simple work related decisions; preform work where the complexity of a task was learned and performed by rote with few variables, little judgment, with few changes; work where interpersonal contact was incident to the work; and the required supervision was simple, direct and concrete. (Tr. 13, Finding 4).

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 20, Finding 5). The ALJ found Plaintiff had no PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 20, Finding 9). The ALJ based his determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a price tagger with approximately 1, 782, 800 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act since May 16, 2012. (Tr. 21, Finding 10).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 5). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On March 25, 2014, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On May 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 12, 13. 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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