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Otter v. Colvin

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

May 19, 2015

TERRY OTTER, Plaintiff.
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Terry Otter, 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 claim for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Title 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 an application for SSI on September 16, 2011, alleging disability since January 1, 1991, due to: mental problems, asthma, severe allergic reactions, scoliosis, "spinal depleosis, " and high cholesterol. (Tr. 12, 182). An administrative hearing was held on September 20, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 21-55).

By a written decision dated January 11, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "arthritis in the back, hands and knees; asthma; and allergies." (Tr. 11). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 112). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work except:

he must avoid all exposures to fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ventilated areas. He must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold. He must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme heat. He is able to handle and finger bilaterally frequently.

(Tr. 12).

With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work (PRW), but could perform the representative occupations of furniture rental clerk, inspector type jobs, and production assembler. (Tr. 16, 48-53). The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 16).

Plaintiff next requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on December 13, 2013. (Tr. 1-3). 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 appeals briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 11).

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).

A claimant 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 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his 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 his claim; (2) whether the claimant has 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 his age, education, and experience. See 20 ...


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