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Potts v. Colvin

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

June 8, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Carrolyn S. Potts, 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 widow's disability insurance benefits ("DWB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(e), 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 applications for DWB and SSI on May 11, 2011, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2008, due to reflex sympathetic dystrophy; obesity; high blood pressure, uncontrolled by medication; anxiety with depression and emotional outbursts; sacroiliitis; bursitis right shoulder joint; degenerative arthritis spine, including cervical; muscle spasms; musculoskeletal impairment; mental impairment; and, disabling fatigue. (T. 209). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. (T. 65-77). An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held an administrative hearing on June 26, 2012. (T. 26-57). The Plaintiff was present and testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by counsel, Laura J. McKinnon. (T. 28). Vocational expert, John Massey, also testified at the hearing. Id.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 59 years old and possessed a high school education. (T. 30). Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work ("PRW"). (T. 19, 30-34, 146). She last worked at a laundry facility in 1990; Plaintiff quit when she moved from Russellville to Clarksville, because she could not get a ride back to work. (T. 31, 139).

On February 15, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's borderline obesity, hypertension, chest pain, right subacromial bursitis, depression, and anxiety were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (T. 14-15). The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), except she is limited to no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds and no overheard work or reaching. (T 15-19). Plaintiff must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Id. Plaintiff is also limited to work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and requiring little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Id. With the assistance of a vocational expert, John Massey, the ALJ found there exists jobs in the national economy the Plaintiff can perform, including working as a kitchen helper, or a hand packager. Dictionary of Occupation Titles ("DOT") No. 920.587-018; DOT No. 318.697-010.

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 3, 2013. (T. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 2). This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. (Doc. 10). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Doc. 19, 20).

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 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 ALJ reaches the final stage 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 raised the following issues on appeal: (A) whether the ALJ erred in his RFC determination; (B) whether the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record; and, (C) whether the ALJ erred in his reliance upon the vocational expert.

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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