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Baker v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

February 19, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Robert K. Baker, 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 his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3). 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 application for DIB on February 23, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010, due to hepititis C, neurofibromatosis, depression, and chronic back pain. (T. 112-114, 146) Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on June 27, 2012. (T. 115-120) His applications were denied initially on August 23, 2012 (T. 64-66, 67-70), and denied at reconsideration on November 7, 2012 (T. 73-74, 75-77). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (T. 78-79), and the hearing was held on April 17, 2013, before the Hon. Edward M. Starr, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (T. 28-57) Plaintiff was present and represented by an attorney. (T. 28, 30)

Plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of hearing, and he had a seventh grade education. (T. 31) He had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as an cut off saw operator, fork lift operator, auto mechanic, wrecker operator, commercial groundskeeper, and parts salvager. (T. 146, 164, 219, 238) He states that he last worked on January 1, 2010.[1] He reportedly stopped working because of his condition(s), testifying that he “couldn’t do nothing.” (T. 36, 146) He also testified that his last job, at a furniture factory, ended in late 2009 when he and a bunch of others were laid off, but that he did continue to do some clean-up work. (T. 49-50) He reported to a psychological examiner that his two most recent jobs ended when he was laid off. (T. 367) He received unemployment benefits for “probably about a year” and into the fourth quarter of 2011. (T. 51, 123-124)

On August 14, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff’s back disorder and mood disorder were severe, but they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (T. 11-15) After discrediting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that he would be limited to work involving only simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, and where supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete. (T. 15-20)

With the help of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his PRW, but that he could perform the requirements of light, unskilled representative occupations such as:

1. Food processing workers: conveyor line bakery worker (DOT 524.687-022), spice mixer (DOT 520.687-062), and Mexican food machine tender (DOT 524.685-038), with 581 jobs existing in Arkansas and 9, 242 in the national economy;

2. Cutting and shaving machine tenders: processed film cutter (DOT 976.685-010), zipper cutter (DOT 616.685-090), and box corner cutter (DOT 640.685.030), with 967 jobs in Arkansas and 35, 067 in the national economy; and, 3. Production workers: laundry folder (DOT 369.687-018), fabric layout worker (DOT 589.687-022), and seam steamer (DOT 789.687-166), with 2, 984 jobs in Arkansas and 118, 395 in the national economy. (T. 21-22, 239-240)

The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from January 1, 2010 through the date of his decision. (T. 22) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on October 21, 2014. (T. 1-3) Plaintiff filed this action on December 10, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. (Doc. 6) Both parties have filed appeal briefs (Docs. 10, 11), and the case is now ready for decision.

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. Thus, the Court’s review is limited and deferential to the Commissioner. See Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 416 (8th Cir. 1996); Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014).

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, ...

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