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Stokes v. Colvin

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

July 30, 2015

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


BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Marietta Stokes, 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 and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the provisions of Title II 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. 6).[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 her application for DIB on January 24, 2012, alleging an onset date of November 18, 2011, due to multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), depression, diabetic neuropathy, asthma, allergies, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), diabetes, hypothyroidism, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 8, 174). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff retains insured status through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 10, Finding 1). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An administrative hearing was held on October 25, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 22-52). A vocational expert ("VE") was also present and testified. (Tr. 43-51).

On April 18, 2013, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") entered an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 8-16). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes, neuropathy, and CTS. (Tr. 10, 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. 10-11, Finding 4).

The ALJ next evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 11-14). The ALJ first evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found she was not entirely credible. (Tr. 12). The ALJ then found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work except with the following limitations:

occasionally reach overhead with the right upper extremity; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; frequently handle and finger on the right; avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poorly ventilated areas; avoid even moderate exposure to hazards, such as machinery and hazards [sic]; able to perform work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables and little judgment, and supervision is simple, direct, and concrete.

(T. 11, Finding 5).

With the help of the VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work ("PRW"). (Tr. 14, Finding 6). Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform the requirements of the representative occupations of waitress, outside deliverer, and bench assembler. (Tr. 15, Finding 10). The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 16, Finding 11).

Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which denied the request on July 10, 2014. (Tr. 1-3). On August 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on August 25, 2014. (ECF No. 6). Both Parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 9, 10).

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 her 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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