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Stark v. Colvin

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

February 17, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Amanda Stark, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). 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:

On August 29, 2006, the Plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging disability since September 1, 2004, due to depression, high blood pressure, lumbar back problems, obesity, anger problems, and mood swings. (Tr. 132, 152, 176-177, 565-569, 591, 604-605, 623, 639) In a decision dated December17, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found the Plaintiff disabled as of September 7, 2006. (Tr. 40, 468, 480-491) On May 17, 2012, pursuant to a continuing disability review, the Commissioner determined her disability ceased on May 1, 2012. (Tr. 493-495, 590-601) A disability hearing officer upheld this determination upon reconsideration after a disability hearing. (Tr. 505-527) Pursuant to the Plaintiff’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held an administrative hearing on February 19, 2013. (Tr. 441-467) Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At this time, she was 37 years old with a high school education. (Tr. 49) She had past relevant work (”PRW”) experience as a cashier, quality control inspector in a chicken plant, general poultry worker, and office worker. (Tr. 153, 160-167, 209, 606-613)

On August 30, 2013, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff’s disorder of the back, mood disorder, high blood pressure, and diabetes mellitus continued to be severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 42-43, 49) Further, he found she experienced medical improvement as of May 1, 2012, rendering her capable of performing light work

except she could understand, remember and carry out simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She can respond to usual work situations, routine work changes and supervision that is simple, direct and concrete. The claimant can occasionally interact with coworkers but should have no contact with the public.

(Tr. 44-45) With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded the Plaintiff could perform work as a maid/housekeeping cleaner, production worker, and extrusion press operator. (Tr. 50)

The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff’s request for review on October 22, 2014. (Tr. 1-6) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1) This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 9, 10)

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). We 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, we 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). 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). A Plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply their 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). 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 ...

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