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Griffin v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

July 14, 2015

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


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Shane Griffin, brings this action pursuant to 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 the provisions of Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. (ECF No. 5).[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

I. Background:

Plaintiff protectively filed his applications for DIB and SSI on May 2, 2011, alleging an onset date of September 19, 2009, due to mastoid bone infection, hearing loss, facial paralysis, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 10, 150). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retained insured status through September 30, 2012. (Tr. 12, Finding 1). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on March 25, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 27-53). A vocational expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 49-52).

On May 27, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 10-20). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of bilateral hearing loss, chronic otitis media status, and depression with anxiety features. (Tr. 12, Finding 3). After reviewing all of the evidence presented, however, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listing. (Tr. 13, Finding 4).

The ALJ next evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 14-18). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found he was not entirely credible. (Tr. 16-17). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following precautions:

he must observe the standard syncopal precautions like no exposure to dangerous or moving machinery or unprotected heights and no driving. He is unable to perform tasks that require excellent hearing. Mentally, he is limited to unskilled work, or work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, involves few variables, requires little independent judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. Additionally, he is unable to deal with the general public.

(T. 14).

With the help of the VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 18, Finding 5). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ then found Plaintiff could perform the requirements of the representative occupations of general laundry worker, industrial cleaner, and hand packager. (Tr. 18-19, Finding 9). The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 19, Finding 10).

On June 13, 2013, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which denied the request on August 29, 2014. (Tr. 1-3). On September 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on September 22, 2014. (ECF No. 5). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 11, 13).

II. Applicable Law:

This Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but it is enough a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. "Our review extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; we also consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision." Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a contrary outcome, or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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 decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).

To determine whether a claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation. She determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the RFC to perform his PRW; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are other jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. 20 C.F.R. §§ ...

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