United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
EARL G. HUDSON PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Earl G. Hudson (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the 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. Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed his disability applications on September 17, 2013 (Tr. 196, 203), alleging he was disabled due to back pain. (Tr. 104, 111). Plaintiff originally alleged an onset date of August 1, 2010 (104, 111); however, on June 10, 2014, he amended the onset date to March 1, 2013. (Tr. 308-309). The applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 104-117, 120-135).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, and the request was granted. (Tr. 151-153). Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on July 24, 2014. (Tr. 37-101). Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel, David K. Harp. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Monte Lumpkin testified at the hearing. Id. At this administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty-nine (49) years old (Tr. 44), which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563© (2015) (DIB) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.963© (2015) (SSI). As for his education, Plaintiff testified he had completed the eleventh grade, dropping out of high school during his senior year . (Tr. 44).
Following the hearing, on January 6, 2015, the ALJ entered a partially unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s applications for DIB and SSI prior to June 1, 2014, and granting Plaintiff’s applications after that date. (Tr. 12-20). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the disability insured status requirements under the Social Security Act through June 30, 2018. (Tr. 14, Finding 1). He also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of March 1, 2013. (Tr. 14, Finding 2). The ALJ determined that since the alleged onset date of disability, Plaintiff had a severe impairment of Musculoskeletal Disorder (Back Disorder, lumbar degenerative disc disease post transforaminal interbody fusion at L5-S1 with chronic pain). (Tr. 14, Finding 3). He further determined that prior to June 1, 2014, the date the Plaintiff became disabled, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 15, Finding 4).
In the decision, the ALJ considered the entire record and determined that prior to June 1, 2014, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, except occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. (Tr. 15, Finding 5). The ALJ further determined Plaintiff was unable to perform any Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) at all times relevant to the decision. (Tr. 17, Finding 6). The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 17-18). In making his determination, the ALJ relied upon the testimony of the VE as to whether jobs existed in the national economy for an individual with the Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC. Id. Specifically, the VE testified an individual with Plaintiff’s limitations would be able to perform the requirements of the following sedentary, unskilled occupations: (1) Inspector with 164 such jobs in Arkansas and 13, 646 nationwide; (2) Production Worker with 502 jobs in Arkansas and 29, 191 nationally; and (3) Assembler with 357 jobs in Arkansas and 20, 843 nationally. Id. Then, the ALJ found that beginning on June 1, 2014, the severity of Plaintiff’s impairment met the criteria section 1.04(A) of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19, Finding 11). Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled prior to June 1, 2014, but became disabled on that date and has continued to be disabled through the date of the decision. (Tr. 19-20, Finding 12).
Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council of the January 6, 2015 decision by the ALJ. (Tr. 8). However, the Appeals Council denied his request for review of the decision. (Tr. 1-3). Thereafter, on April 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court, ECF No. 1, and the Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court. ECF No. 6. The case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a “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), 1382(3)©. A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He 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 Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ ...