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Graham-Dickerson v. Colvin

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

July 14, 2015

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


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Marsh J. Graham-Dickerson, 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 her claim for 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 September 15, 2011, alleging an onset date of May 15, 2011, due to scoliosis, depression, chronic pain, and short-term memory loss. (T. 231) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 88-90, 92-93). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Edward M. Starr, on November 20, 2012. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 37 years of age, had obtained the equivalent of a high education, and was a certified paraprofessional. (T. 30, 36, 232) Her past relevant work experience included working as a paraprofessional from October 2003 until May 2005, a file clerk from September 2006 until March 2007, an assistant at a law firm from October 2007 until March 2008, a teacher's aide at a preschool from October 2008 until May 2009, and a general contract laborer from November 2010 until May 2011. (T. 232)

On April 19, 2013 the ALJ found Plaintiff's chronic back pain, scoliosis, shingles, and mood disorder, not otherwise specified, severe because they had more than a minimal impact upon the Plaintiff's ability to engage in work-related activities. (T. 11) Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of her impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled from May 15, 2011, through the date of his decision issued April 19, 2013. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, except she could only occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and crouch. Additionally, Plaintiff could perform work where interpersonal contact was routine, but superficial; complexity of tasks was learned by experience with several variables; judgment was used within limits; and, supervision required was little for routine tasks, but detailed for non-routine tasks. (T. 13)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on February 27, 2014. (T. 1-3) Plaintiff then filed this action on April 11, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 6) 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, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

A claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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 her disability, not simply her 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).

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 the alleged date of onset on May 15, 2011 through her last date insured, December 31, 2013. Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence; and, (B) the ALJ's Decision is not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 10, pp. 8-11)

In order to qualify for DIB, a claimant must show that he or she became disabled during the period in which he or she met the DIB requirements. Simmons v. Massanari, 264 F.3d 751, 755 (8th Cir. 2001). A claimant who becomes disabled after the expiration of her insured status is not entitled to DIB. Pyland v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 1998). Thus, the period of review is from May 15, 2011, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, Plaintiff's last insured date.

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 repeated here only to the extent necessary.

RFC Determination:

Plaintiff argues the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial ...

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