United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
DAVID R. COHEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, David Cohee, 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 his 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(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 his application for SSI on September 28, 2011, alleging an onset date of February 15, 2011, due to irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"). Tr. 155-156. BR The Commissioner denied his application initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 12. At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held an administrative hearing on August 6, 2012. Tr. 21-59. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 53 years old and possessed a high school education. Tr. 24. He had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a poultry equipment sales representative, truck driver, delivery truck driver, forklift driver and bill collector. Tr. 24-29, 149, 179-186.
On June 21, 2013, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's abdominal abscess status post multiple stomach surgeries constituted a medically determinable impairment. Tr. 14. However, the ALJ found he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that has significantly limited his ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months. In accordance, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's impairment was not severe and the Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 14.
The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on January 9, 2014. Tr. 1-5. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This matter is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF Nos. 9, 10.
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 it is 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 ALJ's decision. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
A claimant for Social Security disability benefits 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 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 his or 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 his or her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f)(2003). Only if he 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).
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 repeated here only to the extent necessary.
In his sole issue on appeal, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ prematurely ended his analysis at step two. At step two, the Plaintiff bears the burden to demonstrate the existence of an impairment or combination of impairments that "significantly limits [his] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). While step two requires only "de minimis" proof of impairment, the claimant must show more than the mere presence of a condition or ailment. Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir 2007). When the evidence only supports a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to work, the ALJ may properly end the sequential evaluation process at step two and find the claimant not disabled. See Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th ...