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Stinnett v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

May 6, 2015

LINDA K. STINNETT PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff, Linda Stinnett, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(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 on December 3, 2010, alleging an onset date of October 7, 2010, [1] due to diabetes, neuropathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), a heart condition, a total hysterectomy, a tumor on her ovary, arthritis in her left hip, and a baker cyst on her right knee. Tr. 167, 174-175, 192-193. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s application initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 92-93. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held an administrative hearing on June 29, 2012. Tr. 53-75. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

The Plaintiff possessed a tenth grade education. Tr. 168. Although she did attempt to obtain her GED, she did not pass the test. Tr. 201. Plaintiff had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a parts auditor/inspector. Tr. 44, 159-160, 168.

On September 21, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff’s diabetes mellitus, hypertension, history of congestive heart failure, hearth rhythm disorder, obesity, minimal degenerative changes in her lumbar spine, and mild spurring in her right greater trochanter were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Tr. 37-39. After partially discrediting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of light work. Tr. 39. The ALJ then found Plaintiff could return to her PRW as a parts auditor/inspector on the line.

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on February 5, 2014. Tr. 1-7. This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. ECF No. 7. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF Nos. 12, 13.

II. Applicable Law:

This court’s role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s findings. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s decision. We must affirm the ALJ’s decision 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, we must affirm the decision of the ALJ. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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 impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.

The Commissioner’s regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her claim; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to perform other work in the national economy given her age, education, and experience. See 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. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ erred in his RFC determination; 2) The ALJ failed to develop the record; and, 3) The ALJ erred at step four by failing to consult a vocational expert concerning the Plaintiff’s ability to return to her PRW. For the reasons set forth below, the Court disagrees.

The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs and the ALJ’s opinion, and ...


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