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Sanders v. Colvin

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

April 14, 2015

TRACY L. SANDERS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Tracy Sanders ("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 Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and a period of disability under Titles II and 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 applications for DIB and SSI were filed on September 16, 2011. (Tr. 9, 107-117). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to scoliosis, bulging disc, neck problems, high blood pressure, sinus problems, and ulcers. (Tr. 132). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of July 3, 2010. (Tr. 9, 107, 111). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 9). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 70-73).

Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on December 13, 2012. (Tr. 24-40). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Anthony Biddle, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Lakedra Parker 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 ninth grade. (Tr. 17, 133).

On February 12, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 9-18). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2015. (Tr. 11, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since the alleged onset date, but there had been a continuous 12 month period where the Plaintiff did not engage in SGA. (Tr. 11-12, Findings 2, 3).

The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of cervical and lumbar disc disease, hypertension, and obesity. (Tr. 12, Finding 4). 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. 12, Finding 5).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 12-17). 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 occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds; frequently lift and carry less than 10 pounds; sit, stand, or walk for 6 hours during an 8-hour period; alternate standing and sitting every 30 minutes; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, but no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally reach overhead and frequently handle and finger with the left arm; has no restriction on the right arm; should avoid exposure to hazards, temperature extremes, and concentrated exposure to vibrations; and should not handle complex instructions because of the possible side effects to medication. (Tr. 12-13, Finding 6).

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 17, Finding 7). The ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW as a chicken catcher and housekeeper. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 17, Finding 11). 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 300 such jobs in Arkansas and 190, 000 such jobs in the nation, storage rental clerk with 400 such jobs in Arkansas and 185, 000 such jobs in the nation, and photocopy machine operator with 500 such jobs in Arkansas and 165, 000 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 July 3, 2010. (Tr. 18, Finding 12).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 5). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On May 13, 2014, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-3). On July 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 9, 10. 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), ...

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