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Wilkerson v. Colvin

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

June 1, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Deborah Wilkerson, brings this action under 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 supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(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 SSI on May 31, 2011, alleging an onset date of November 10, 2010, due to rheumatoid arthritis ("RA"), depression, acid reflux, shingles and left-hand problems. (T. 28, 156, 199) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 66-69, 76-77). Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Edward M. Starr, on July 3, 2012. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 47 years of age and had completed the 7th grade. (T. 29) Her past relevant work experience included working as a house keeper at motels off and on from 1984 through 1995, 1998, and 2000 through 2004. (T. 158)

On October 3, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff's arthralgia and mood disorders severe, however the ALJ found Plaintiff's migraine headaches, acid reflux, thyroid, and bladder problems not severe, as they did not cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to do basic work-like tasks. (T. 12-13) Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of her impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled from May 31, 2011, through the date of his decision, October 3, 2012. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, except she could understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, respond to usual work situations and routine work changes, respond to supervision that was simple, direct, and concrete, and occasionally interact with supervisions, co-workers, and the public, and occasionally bilaterally handle and reach. (T. 15)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on November 7, 2013. (T. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on January 7, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 6) Both parties have filed briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 10 and 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 relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's decision." Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). "Our review extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; we also consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision." Cox, v. Asture, 495 F.3d 617, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). The AJL'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). The Court considers the evidence that "supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's decision, and we will not reverse simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Hamilton v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2008). 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 at 1068.

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 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)(c). A Plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply their impairments, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

If such an impairment exists, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has demonstrated that she is unable to perform either her past relevant work, or any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (20 C.F.R. §416.945). The Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the plaintiff has engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his or her claim; (2) whether the plaintiff has a severe physical and/or mental impairment of 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 plaintiff is able to perform other work in the national economy given his or her age, education and experience. 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. §404.150, 416.920 (2003).

III. Discussion:

The Court must determine whether substantial evidence, taking the record as a whole, supports the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff had not been disabled from the alleged date of onset on November 1, 2010. Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ erred when he failed to find Plaintiff's bipolar disorder and PTSD severe impairments; and, (B) the ALJ erred by failing to order intellectual, achievement, and rheumatologic testing. (Doc. 10 pp. 11-15)

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 are ...

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