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Wagner v. Colvin

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

May 27, 2015

SHANNON MARIE WAGNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Shannon Marie Wagner ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the 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. 9.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

1. Background:

Plaintiff's application for DIB was filed on October 11, 2011. (Tr. 38, 145-148). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to neck and back problems, stroke, depression, asthma, hypertension, and breathing problems. (Tr. 174). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of February 14, 2011. (Tr. 38, 145). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 38, 53-58, 64-65). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 66).

Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on February 21, 2013. (Tr. 7-34). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Michael Hamby, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Montie Lumpkin testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty (40) years old, which is defined as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c), and had obtained her GED. (Tr. 12).

On April 19, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 38-46). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. (Tr. 40, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since February 14, 2011. (Tr. 40, Finding 2).

The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of stroke, obesity, disorder of the back, disorder of the neck, asthma, and degenerative disk disease. (Tr. 40, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 40, Finding 4).

In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 41-45). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, with the following limitations: can climb ramps and stairs frequently and never climb ropes, scaffolds and ladders; can balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally; must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, dusts, odors, gases and poorly ventilated areas; can handle and finger with her left upper extremity frequently; and is limited to occupations that require only occasional near and far visual acuity. (Tr. 41, Finding 5).

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 45, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff was able to perform her PRW as a cashier checker, carhop, assistant retail manager, and management trainee in fast food. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from February 14, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 45, Finding 7).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 51). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-4). On August 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on August 25, 2014. ECF No. 9. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 14. This case is now ready for decision.

2. Applicable Law:

In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See 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 or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a "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 his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He 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 Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at ...


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