United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
HON. MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Bland Kelems, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the provisions of Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3). Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, and therefore, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), judicial review is now appropriate. After having reviewed the record for the purpose of determining whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.
I. Procedural Background
Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on December 15 and December 29, 2009, respectively, claiming disability beginning February 1, 2006, due to bipolar disorder and enlarged blood vessels. (Tr. 252-57) The State Disability Determination Services denied Plaintiff’s applications initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 112-18, 120-24) At Plaintiff’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”), Hon. Harold D. Davis, conducted a hearing on November 16, 2011, at which Plaintiff and Dianne G. Smith, a vocational expert, testified. (Tr. 29-47) Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by his attorney, Michael Sherman. (Tr. 29)
By written decision dated February 2, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arteriovenous malformation and borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 95) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff’s depression was not severe enough to contribute to disability. (Tr. 95) After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (Tr. 96)
The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that the claimant can only occasionally bend, stoop or squat. (Tr. 96) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff would be limited to jobs that involve simple tasks and simple job instructions. (Tr. 96) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a small products assembler as this job does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff’s RFC. (Tr. 101) The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability (as defined in the Social Security Act) from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 101)
On February 21, 2013, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ’s February 2, 2012 decision and remanded the case to a different ALJ for further proceedings. (Tr. 108-110) Specifically, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to give further consideration to Plaintiff’s maximum RFC, adhere to Social Security Rulings and Regulations for any conclusions reached about past relevant work, and obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effects of the assessed limitations on the claimant’s occupational base. (Tr.110)
Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”), Hon. David J. Manley, conducted a second hearing on August 22, 2013, at which Plaintiff and Charles D. Turner, a vocational expert (the “VE”), testified. (Tr. 48-85) Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by his attorney, Michael Sherman. (Tr. 48)
By written decision dated October 16, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arteriovenous malformation, headaches, varicose vein pain, right lower extremity lymphedema, obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, social phobia, and major depressive disorder. (Tr. 11) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the impairments of provisional alcohol abuse and history of cannabis abuse (allegedly in remission), however, he found these were “non-severe” as they did not result in any discernible functional limitation. (Tr. 11) After reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (Tr. 12)
The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform work at the sedentary exertional level. (Tr. 14) The ALJ found Plaintiff could lift no more than 10 pounds at a time, occasionally lift articles like docket files, ledgers and small tools, sit approximately 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday, stand/walk no more than 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday; no significant stooping, crouching, bending is required. The ALJ also found Plaintiff has good use of his hands and fingers for repetitive action, but is limited to unskilled work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, contains few variables, requires little judgment, and any supervision required would need to be simple, direct and concrete. (Tr. 14)
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not capable of performing his past relevant work as a landscape laborer and a lubrication servicer. (Tr. 20) However, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of making a successful adjustment to other sedentary work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as, assembly work or inspecting work. (Tr. 21) The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability (as defined in the Social Security Act) from the alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (Tr. 21)
Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ’s unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 5) This request was denied on December 11, 2014. (Tr. 1-4) The ALJ’s decision therefore became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Plaintiff’s administrative remedies were exhausted. (Tr. 1) Plaintiff subsequently filed his Complaint herein seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision. (Doc. 1) Both parties have filed briefs, and this case is before the Court for decision. (Docs. 9, 10)
II. Standard of Review and 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. ...