United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
VESTA E. WOLARIDGE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Vesta Wolaridge, 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 a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(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 application for DIB on April 18, 2011, alleging an onset date of March 2, 2011, due to depression, asthma with a history of sarcoidosis, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel, degenerative disk disease ("DDD") in the back and neck, and arthritis in the neck. Tr. 9, 111-112, 137. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 50-55. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held an administrative hearing on January 30, 2013. Tr. 21-49. The Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 43 years old and possessed a high school education. Tr. 24. Plaintiff testified that she went into the Air Force for six years following her graduation from high school. Tr. 24. Further, she had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a janitor and a label machine operator. Tr. 24, 28, 126, 174.
On May 16, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's early mild DDD in the cervical and lumbar spine with associated pain, obesity, and asthma were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. Tr. 11. After partially discrediting Plaintiff's subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of light work. Tr. 13. The ALJ then found Plaintiff could perform her PRW as a label machine operator. Tr. 14.
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 29, 2014. Tr. 1-5. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This case 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. 11, 12.
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 their disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents them 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). 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). A Plaintiff must show that their 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). 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).
Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record; 2) The ALJ erred at step two of his analysis; 3) The ALJ failed to properly evaluate the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and apply the Polaski factors; and, 4) The ALJ erred in his RFC determination.
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 ...