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Rippee v. Colvin

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

June 18, 2015

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


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Raymond E. Rippee, 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 his claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 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 his application for SSI on March 12, 2012, alleging an onset date of May 5, 2009, due to a neck and spinal injury from a car accident and COPD. (T. 115-116, 151) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 43-46, 52-53) Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Ronald L. Burton, on November 5, 2012. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 51 years of age and had the equivalent of a high school education. (T. 25, 120) His past relevant work experience included working as a transporter from 2007 to 2009 and a security guard from 2006 to 2007. (T. 32, 121)

On May 23, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") severe, because singly or in combination they imposed more than a minimal limitation on the Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities. (T. 12) Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of his impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled from March 12, 2012, through the date of his Decision issued May 23, 2013. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of light work. (T. 13)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on April 24, 2014. (T. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on June 10, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) Both parties have filed briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 12 and 13)

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 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), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his 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 plaintiff has demonstrated he is unable to perform either his 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 DIB and SSI 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 plaintiff 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)(4), 416.920(a)(4). 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

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 March 12, 2012, through the date of the ALJ's Decision on May 23, 2013. Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ erred in his determination of the severity of Plaintiff's impairments; (B) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination; and, (C) the ALJ erred at step four of his analysis when he determined Plaintiff could perform past relevant work. (Doc. 12, pp. 7-14)

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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