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Willhite-Williams v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

April 22, 2015

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


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Miranda Willhite-Williams, 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 her claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the provisions of Titles II and 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. 8).[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 her application for DIB and SSI on October 4, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 15, 2010, due to "major depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and nerve disorder." (Tr. 15, 253, 257). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retained insured status through September 30, 2010. (Tr. 17, Finding 1). 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. 43-67). A supplemental hearing was held on February 27, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and a vocational expert ("VE") was present and testified. (Tr. 68-76).

On June 7, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 15-24). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "chronic back pain; major depressive disorder, not otherwise specified ("NOS"); anxiety disorder, NOS; social anxiety disorder; and panic disorder." (Tr. 17, 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. 18-19, Finding 4).

The ALJ next evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 19-22). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found she was not entirely credible. (Tr. 19-21). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work except:

She can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs and can never climb ladders, ropers, or scaffolds. She can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can only occasionally perform overhead work/overhead reaching. She must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards including no driving as part of work. She is able to perform work where interpersonal contact with co-workers and supervisors is incidental to the work performed, there is no contact with the general public, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and use of little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete.

(T. 19, Finding 5).

With the help of the VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work ("PRW") as a cardboard cutter. (Tr. 22-23, Finding 6). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the requirements of the representative occupations of machine tender and assembler. (Tr. 22-24, Finding 6). The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 24, Finding 7).

On August 5, 2013, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which denied the request on May 7, 2014. (Tr. 1-3). On July 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on July 29, 2014. (ECF No. 8). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 11, 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 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 her 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 her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to: (1) include degenerative disc disease of the neck and spine as a severe impairment at Step Two, (2) erred in determining her credibility, (3) did not give appropriate weight to the opinion of a treating nurse, and (4) erred in ...

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