United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Arvin Lance Rector, 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 his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 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 protectively filed his current applications for DIB and SSI on August 11, 2011, alleging an inability to work since December 1, 2009, due to seizure disorder/dyslexia/HBP. (Tr. 134-147, 168, 172). An administrative hearing was held on April 3, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and he and his mother testified. (Tr. 42-70).
By written decision dated September 6, 2012, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe - chronic, severe, long-term alcoholism with seizures directly linked to alcoholism. (Tr. 31). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments, including the substance use disorders, met section(s) 12.09(I) of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (Tr. 33). The ALJ found that if the Plaintiff stopped the substance use, the remaining limitations would not cause more than a minimal impact on the Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities; therefore, the Plaintiff would not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (Tr. 34). The ALJ further held that the substance use disorder was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability because the Plaintiff would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use. (Tr. 36). The ALJ concluded that because the substance use disorder was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability, Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 36-37).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which considered additional information and denied that request on November 20, 2013. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
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 that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. 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 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. 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).
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)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner's regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant had a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) met or equaled an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevented the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant was able to perform other work in the national economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his RFC. See McCoy v. Schneider , 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §416.920.
Plaintiff raises the following arguments in this matter: 1) The ALJ erred in finding that alcoholism was a "contributing factor material" to an otherwise favorable disability determination; and 2) Alternatively, the Appeals Council should direct that this case be reviewed by its medical staff as key medical evidence was added to ...