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Middleton v. Colvin

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

April 17, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Margo A. Middleton, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(3)(A). 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 filed her application for DIB and SSI on March 29, 2011, alleging an onset date of June 1, 2009, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), mitral valve prolapse, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, bilateral organic brain syndrome, memory loss, chest pain and dizziness. (T. 180) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 87-89, 77-78, 623-626). Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Glenn A. Neel, on September 13, 2012. At the hearing Plaintiff requested and the ALJ approved to amend the onset date to November 17, 2010.[1]

At the time of the hearing Plaintiff was 49 years of age and had graduated from high school. Her past relevant work experience included working as a certified nursing assistant ("CNA") from 1990 to February 2002, and a cashier from November 2005 to December 2005 and August 2007 to July 2009. (T. 155)

On January 31, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine, COPD, asthma, mood, anxiety, disruptive behavior, personality and painful disorders severe. (T. 14) Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of her impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled prior to January 27, 2013. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work, except she could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She could never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds and must avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants such as temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation. In addition, Plaintiff could only do work where interpersonal contact was incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks was learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment involved and the supervision required was simple, direct and concrete. (T. 17) On January 27, 2013, Plaintiff's age category changed to individual closely approaching advanced age. After taking into consideration her age, education, work experience and RFC, the ALJ determined no jobs exited in significant numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff could have performed, and he found Plaintiff disabled as of January 27, 2013. (T. 24)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on January 3, 2013. (T. 3-5) Plaintiff then filed this action on February 5, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) Both parties have filed briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 11 and 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 relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's decision." Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). "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. Asture, 495 F.3d 617, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). The AJL'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). The Court considers the evidence that "supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's decision, and we will not reverse simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Hamilton v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2008). 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 at 1068.

It is well-established that 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 any 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 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 their impairments, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

If such an impairment exists, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has demonstrated that she is unable to perform either her past relevant work, or any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (20 C.F.R. §416.945). The ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)-(f)(2003). Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §404.150, 416.920 (2003).

III. Evidence Presented:

The medical evidence is as follows.

Plaintiff submitted records from 1974 that showed she tested positive for tuberculous. (T. 461) Psychologist, Beth A. Kalal, Ph.D., stated in a letter that she last treated Plaintiff February 7, 1997; however, she had shredded her files in June of 2009, pursuant to California law. Dr. Kalal indicated she diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, in partial remission. (T. 544) Plaintiff also submitted medical records from Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, California from 1993 to 2003. During this period of time, the records indicated Plaintiff had a tubal ligation, breathing problems and early degenerative disc narrowing. (T. 522)

On February 23, 2007, Plaintiff was seen at Baxter Regional Medical Center ("Baxter") due to breathing problems. She informed the doctors she had quit smoking. Upon examination, the doctor determined Plaintiff had wheezing throughout both lungs and increased expiratory phase. An X-ray showed hyperinflation. The doctor diagnosed her with acute COPD and fever. (T. 592, 593-594) Plaintiff was directed to take Albuterol, Potassium Chloride, Prednisone and Azithromycin. (T. 594)

Plaintiff was treated at Baxter for respiratory complaints on January 29, 2008. Despite being diagnosed with COPD and told to stop smoking, Plaintiff continued to smoke. A chest X-ray revealed her lungs were hyperexpanded, but there was no sign of pneumothorax, pleural effusion, or confluent infiltrate. (T. 583) Mild interstitial changes were noted, however, the osseous structures and heart size were stable. She was treated with oxygen, bronchodilators, steroids and antibiotics. While some of her symptoms improved, she was still wheezing upon discharge. The doctor prescribed her Prednisone and Doxycycline. (T. 575)

Plaintiff was treated at Baxter emergency room on December 28, 2008, for bronchitis. (T. 380) Records indicated Plaintiff had a history of asthma, COPD, organic brain syndrome and mitral valve prolapse. (T. 381) An X-ray showed a mild diffuse interstitial change from the previous study, otherwise no acute process in ...

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