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Goodwin v. Colvin

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

July 28, 2015

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


MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Brandon Carl Goodwin, 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 his claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and 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 his applications for DIB and SSI on June 8, 2012, alleging an onset date of September 8, 2011, due to spinal osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. (T. 125) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (T. 52-54, 55-58, 63-64, 65-67) Plaintiff then requested an administration hearing, which was held via teleconference before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Hon. Clifford Shilling, on April 23, 2013. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 27 years old and had graduated from high school. (T. 38, 196) His past relevant work experience included working as a general laborer in construction from July 2006 until September 2007 and August 2010 to August 2011, a security guard in 2007, a production worker in 2009, and a factory worker in 2010. (T. 127)

On July 26, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease (status post-surgery), hypertension, and obesity severe; however, he found Plaintiff's hyperlipidemia not severe as it caused no more than minimal vocationally relevant limitations. (T. 11-12) Considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and the residual functional capacity ("RFC") based upon all of his impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled from September 8, 2011 through the date of his Decision issued July 26, 2013. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, except he was limited to no more than frequent climbing of ramps and stairs and occasional use of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Plaintiff was limited to positions that required no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (T. 12)

Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but his request for review was denied on June 24, 2014. (T. 1-3) Plaintiff then filed this action on July 29, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. (Doc. 8) Both parties have filed briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Doc. 10 and 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). 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 his disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents him 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 his disability, not simply his 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).

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 September 8, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's Decision issued July 26, 2013. Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination; and, (B) the ALJ erred in his step four analysis finding Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work. (Doc. 10, pp. 1-4)

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 ...

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