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Varela-Duron v. Colvin

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

July 29, 2015

MONICA L. VARELA-DURON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Monica Varela-Duron, 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 her 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). 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 applications for DIB and SSI on October 28, 2010, alleging disability since April 1, 2010, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure, arthropy of the left ventricle, and migraines. (Tr. 32, 186) An administrative hearing was held on October 25, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 47-88)

By a written decision dated August 15, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: COPD, obesity, hypertension, migraines, and obstructive sleep apnea. (Tr. 34) After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment in the Listing of Impairments. (Tr. 35) The ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work except:

she must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation. Additionally, she should avoid hazards, including no driving as part of work, due to her complaints of dizziness. (Tr. 35)

With the help of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work (PRW), but could perform the requirements of the representative occupations of patcher-assembly worker and credit card interviewer/charge account clerk. (Tr. 41-42) The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant time period. (Tr. 42)

Plaintiff next requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied the request on December 12, 2013. (Tr. 1-4) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action on February 10, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12)

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 that 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 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. 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).

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 substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); 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 demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(C). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993).

The Commissioner's regulations require the application of a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of her RFC. 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

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by: (1) not holding a supplemental hearing to allow cross-examination of a medical expert; (2) not including additional impairments at step two; (3) improperly discounting her subjective complaints; and, (4) ...


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