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Gattis v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

June 18, 2015

TOMMY E. GATTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Tommy Gattis, 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 disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and 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 applications for DIB and SSI on October 18, 2011, alleging an onset date of November 22, 2010, due to depression, cardiovascular disease, three bulging disks in his neck, a bulging disk in his back, a metal plate and screws in his left wrist, depression, anxiety, and a learning disability. Tr. 223-235, 256, 260, 278-279, 309-310. 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 October 17, 2012. Tr. 21-59. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 44 years old and possessed a tenth grade education. Tr. 40, 106, 256, 261. He had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a tow-truck driver, welder, automobile service station attendant, and construction worker. Tr. 107-115, 152, 261, 268-275.

On May 10, 2013, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's mild osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease ("DJD") of the cervical and lumbar spine, degenerative disk disease ("DDD") and dextroscoliosis of the thoracic spine, DJD of the left upper extremity status post open reduction and internal fixation, coronary artery disease ("CAD") status post myocardial infarction and stenting, history of bronchitis, borderline intellectual functioning ("BIF"), math disorder, and adjustment disorder with depression were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Tr. 32-35. After partially discrediting Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work,

"except he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He cannot perform work overhead or reach overhead and can perform frequent, but not constant, handling with his left, non-dominant upper extremity. He must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor ventilation as well as hazards, including no driving as a part of work. Nonexertionally, the claimant can perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, using few variables and little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete." Tr. 35.

The ALJ then found Plaintiff could perform work as an assembler (light and sedentary), machine tender, and inspector (light and sedentary). Tr. 41.

The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on March 20, 2014. Tr. 1-4. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This matter is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. ECF No. 7. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. ECF Nos. 10, 11.

II. Applicable Law:

This court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). 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. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). 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. Id.

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)(4), 416.920(a)(4). 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(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

III. Discussion:

Plaintiff raises a single issue on appeal: whether the ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence. RFC is the most a person can do despite that person's limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). A disability claimant has the burden of establishing his or her RFC. See Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir. 2004). "The ALJ determines a claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his or her limitations." Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 844 (8th Cir. 2009); see also Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ is responsible for determining RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and claimant's own description of his limitations). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a "claimant's residual functional capacity is a medical question." Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, an ...


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