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Dixon v. Colvin

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

February 25, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Jeremy Dixon, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claims for a period of disability, 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)(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:

Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on June 29, 2010, alleging an amended onset date of February 3, 2010, [1] due to chronic back pain, the left leg shorter than the right, poor vision, depression, headaches, neck pain, possible ruptured disks in the cervical spine, and medication side effects to include dizziness, drowsiness, and hyperactivity. (Tr. 230-241, 282) The Commissioner denied his applications initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 126-129, 132-136) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held an administrative hearing on February 6, 2012. (Tr. 83-125) Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. On January 10, 2013, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing and called both a medical expert (ophthalmologist) and a vocational expert to testify. (Tr. 52-82)

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 37 years old and possessed a high school education. (Tr. 23, 230, 283) He had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a forklift driver, general laborer, and telemarketer. (Tr. 283, 300-311)

On August 12, 2013, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s cerebral palsy with spastic diplegic[2] pattern in the left lower extremity with leg length discrepancy, degenerative disk disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, mild spondylosis of the thoracic spine, obesity, hypertension, right eye exotropia with amblyopia, and sinusitis were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 17-19) After partially discrediting the Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work except:

he can sit no more than 30 minutes at any one time, but he does not need a break from his work station; he can stand or walk up to 15 minutes at any one time; he can change from sitting to standing or walking or from standing to walking or sitting without needing to rest or otherwise be unable to perform normal work duties; he can remain on task while sitting, standing, walking, or shifting between these positions; he cannot push or pull levers or foot pedals with his lower extremities, and cannot bend, twist, or turn more than occasionally; he cannot kneel, crawl, or climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; he can stoop or squat less than occasionally; he needs a cane for balance when walking, but using a cane will not reduce his capacity to lift or carry; he cannot walk on uneven terrain; he cannot use air or vibrating tools or motor vehicles, or work at unprotected heights; he requires the use of safety glasses; and he cannot perform work that requires fine visual acuity such as the use of slotted screws or repair watches. (Tr. 19)

With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ then found Plaintiff capable of performing work as a call-out operator, charge account clerk, and addresser. (Tr. 24)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on November 10, 2014. (Tr. 1-7) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1) This matter is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. (ECF No. 9) Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 13, 14)

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), 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), 1382(3)(c). 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), 416.920(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in ...

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