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Wakefield v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

July 21, 2015

ASHLEY N. WAKEFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Ashley N. Wakefield, 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 supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title 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 her application for SSI on July 26, 2012, alleging an onset date of January 8, 1993 due to bipolar, schizophrenia, suicidal, self-harm, anxiety, and social disorder. (T. 191) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 86-89, 96-98) Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Clifford Shilling, on August 14, 2013. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 20 years old and had the equivalent of a high school education. (T. 191) She did not have any past relevant work experience.

On January 10, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff's borderline personality disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, polysubstance abuse in remission, and obesity severe. (T. 14) 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 since the filing of her application on July 26, 2012. (T. 21) The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: Plaintiff could perform work in which interpersonal contact was incidental to the work performed and the complexity of the tasks was learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little judgment, and where the supervision required was simple, direct, and concrete. (T. 17)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was denied on March 28, 2014. (T. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on May 22, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) 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 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. §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. §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. §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. §416.920(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 since the date of her application, July 26, 2012. Plaintiff raises four 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 step three determination; (C) the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain and in his application of Polaski; and, (D) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination. (Doc. 10, pp. 11-20)

RFC determination:

Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred in his RFC determination. (Doc. 10, pp. 17-20) The Court agrees.

RFC is the most a person can do despite that person's limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). A disability claimant has the burden of establishing his or her RFC. See Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir. 2004). "The ALJ determines a claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his or her limitations." Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 844 (8th Cir. 2009); see also Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ is responsible for determining RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and claimant's own description of his limitations). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3).

The Eighth Circuit has held that a "claimant's residual functional capacity is a medical question." Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001) Therefore, a claimant's RFC assessment "must be based on medical evidence that addresses the claimant's ability to function in the workplace." "An administrative law judge may not draw upon his own inferences from medical reports." Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2000). Instead, the ALJ should seek opinions from a claimant's treating physicians or from ...


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