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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

May 7, 2015

VANESSA J. DAVIS PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HONORABLE ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff, Vanessa J. Davis, 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 and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II 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 filed her current application for DIB on April 27, 2011, alleging an inability to work since September 9, 2009, due to anxiety, post left shoulder injury and repair, osteoarthritis, and depression. (Tr. 207, 212, 216). An administrative hearing was held on November 2, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and she and her husband testified. (Tr. 28-80).

By written decision dated February 1, 2013, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe -osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease of the thoracolumbar spine, obesity, history of left distal radius fracture status post open reduction and internal fixation, history of left shoulder surgery, and hypertension. (Tr. 14). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; she can perform no overhead work or overhead reaching with the non-dominant left upper extremity; she can only occasionally reach in all other directions other than overhead, handle, and finger with the non-dominant left upper extremity; can perform no pushing or pulling with the non-dominant left upper extremity; she must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; and she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including no driving as part of work.

(Tr. 17). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would not have been able to perform her past relevant work, but that there were other jobs Plaintiff would have been able to perform, such as conveyor line bakery worker, furniture rental clerk, and lobby attendant. (Tr. 21-22).

Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on December 20, 2013. (Tr. 1-5). 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 requested 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. Barnard, 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. Barnard, 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 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)(D). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her 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 had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her 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 her 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 her residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §416.920.

III. Discussion:

In this case, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to September 12, 2009, and she is insured through December 31, 2010. (Tr. 12). Accordingly, the issue in this case is whether Plaintiff was disabled during the relevant time period of September 12, 2009, through December 31, 2010.

In order for Plaintiff to qualify for DIB she must prove that, on or before the expiration of her insured status she was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which is expected to last for at least twelve months or result in death. Basinger v. Heckler, 725 F.2d 1166, 1168 (8th Cir. 1984). Records and medical opinions from outside the insured period can only be used in “helping to elucidate a medical condition during the time for which benefits might be rewarded.” Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 907 ...


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