United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Yolanda Gisele Thompson, 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") 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). 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 protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on November 14, 2011, alleging an onset date of September 1, 2011, due to chronic migraines, an enlarged thyroid, diabetic tendencies, high blood pressure, and acid reflux. (T. 128-134, 135-142, 182) Her applications were denied initially on February 17, 2012, and upon reconsideration on April 24, 2012. (T. 73-75, 76-79) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (T. 87-88), and the hearing was held on November 16, 2012, before the Hon. Harold D. Davis, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (T. 26-62) Plaintiff was present and represented by her attorney, Jim O'Hern. Also present at the hearing was Debra Steele, Ph.D., a vocational expert ("VE"). (T. 26, 28)
Plaintiff was 38 years old at the time of the hearing. (T. 31) She had a 12th grade education, and she had attended college for a year and a half. (T. 31-32) She last worked as a cashier and stocker at Dollar General (T. 34-35), and she had other past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a production line worker at a poultry factory, a food service worker at a hospital, as an over-night stocker at Wal-Mart, as a cashier and stocker at Toys-R-Us and Dollar Tree, as a waitress at Pizza Parlour, and as a Avon sales representative. (T. 36-38, 189-196) At the time of her applications, Plaintiff was working part-time at Dollar General, about 11-16 hours per week at $7.50 per hour, although she felt like she had been unable to work substantially since September 1, 2011. (T. 129, 168)
In a Decision issued on January 11, 2013, the ALJ found: (1) that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2012; (2) that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of September 1, 2011; (3) that the Plaintiff has medically determinable severe impairments of essential hypertension, diabetes mellitus, migraine headaches, and depression; (4) that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926); (5) that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except the Plaintiff is able to perform only simple tasks with simple instructions; (6) that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a poultry eviscerator, a food service worker, cashier, and housekeeper; and, (7) that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from the alleged onset date of September 1, 2011 through the date of the Decision on January 11, 2013. (T. 15-21)
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council (T. 7-9), but said request for review was denied on April 17, 2014. (T. 1-6) Plaintiff then filed this action on June 12, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 11) Both parties have filed appeal briefs (Docs. 13 and 15), and the case is ready for decision.
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 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), 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 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), 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 was not disabled from the alleged date of onset on September 1, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's Decision on January 11, 2013. Plaintiff raises three issues on appeal: (A) that Plaintiff had two impairments, namely Type II diabetes with associated neuropathy in her hands and feet and recurring, severe migraine headaches, that the ALJ erroneously did not find to be severe; (B) that the ALJ erred in making ...