United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, David White, 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 a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"). 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 DIB on March 1, 2012, and for SSI on March 28, 2012, alleging an onset date of October 23, 2010, due to memory problems and back and neck pain. (T. 350) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 240-242, 243-246, 248-249, 250-252) Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Bill Jones, on January 24, 2013. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 48 years old and had completed 10th grade. (T. 351) His past relevant work experience included operating a forklift from 1991 until 2008. (T. 351)
On March 13, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff's disorder of the cervical spine severe. (T. 122) 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 October 23, 2010 through the date of his Decision issued March 13, 2013. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, except he could occasionally reach overhead, frequently flex, extend, and rotate his neck; Plaintiff was limited to work involving simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and simple work-related decisions, with few, if any, workplace changes. (T. 169)
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council. While the review was initially denied, on April 28, 2013 the Appeals Council set aside their earlier action denying review in order to consider additional information. (T. 1-4) On May 22, 2014, the Appeals Council determined the additional information did not provide a basis for changing the ALJ's Decision. (T. 2) Plaintiff then filed this action on May 24, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 8) 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 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). The Court 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, the Court 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), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his 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).
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 October 23, 2010 through the date of the ALJ's decision issued March 13, 2013. Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record; (B) the ALJ erred in his credibility and Polaksi analysis; and, (C) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination. (Doc. 10, pp. 13-20)
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 they are ...