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Patterson v. Colvin

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

March 2, 2016

ALEXANDER PATTERSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HONORABLE MARK. E. FORD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff, Alexander Patterson, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his claim 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

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on September 13, 2010, (Tr. 396) alleging disability since January 1, 2012, due to alleged physical conditions, including “[d]iabetes with complications, HBP, severe back problems, vision problems, severe hand and arm problems (pain and numbness), headaches, and stomach ulcers.” (Tr. 468) His application was denied initially on December 10, 2010, and upon reconsideration on January 31, 2011. (Tr. 274-276, 280-281) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 282-283), and a hearing was held on September 13, 2011, before the Hon. Edward M. Starr, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 189-217) Plaintiff was present and represented by his attorney, Mr. Andrew Flake. (Tr. 189) Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (“VE”), Mr. John Massey, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 191-211, 211-216)

Plaintiff, born in 1971, was 40 years old at the time of this administrative hearing. (Tr. 192) He left school in the 8th grade, after being severely beaten by a group of students. (Tr. 192, 210-211) Plaintiff did not obtain a GED. (Tr. 192, 210-211) From 2005 until 2010, Plaintiff owned an auto dealership. (Tr. 195-207) Plaintiff stopped working in January of 2010 because of his health issues. (Tr. 195-207)

Following the hearing, on November 1, 2011, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application for DIB. (Tr. 258-266) Subsequently, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request to review the ALJ’s decision and remanded the case for further evaluation and consideration. (Tr. 271-272) Following the Appeals Council’s remand, a second administrative hearing was held on March 8, 2013. (Tr. 219-251) Plaintiff was present at this hearing and represented by an attorney, Mr. Fred Caddell. (Tr. 219-251) Plaintiff testified at the hearing. (Tr. 220-251) Following the hearing, on August 30, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Plaintiff’s application for benefits. (Tr. 170-182) In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements under Title II of the Act on June 30, 2012, his date last insured. (Tr. 172) He also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of January 1, 2010, through his date last insured of June 30, 2012. (Tr. 172) The ALJ determined Plaintiff had severe impairments of diabetes mellitus and associated neuropathy, obesity, depression and a personality disorder, but Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 172-176)

In the decision, the ALJ considered the entire record and determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, except as follows:

“[claimant] can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, operate foot controls and frequently reach, finger, handle and operate foot controls. He cannot crouch or crawl. He must avoid hazards, including unprotected heights and moving machinery. He can occasionally tolerate humidity, temperature extremes and vibrations. Nonexertionally, the claimant can respond to supervision that is simple, direct and concrete. He can occasionally interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public.” (Tr. 176-180)

The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any Past Relevant Work (“PRW”); was a younger individual, age 18-44, on the date last insured; had a limited education and was able to communicate in English; and, that transferability of job skills was not material to the determination because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supported a finding that Plaintiff was “not disabled, ” whether or not Plaintiff had transferable job skills. (Tr. 180-181) Considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 181-182) With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work and could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as: (1) assembler (DOT 726.684-110), of which there were 215 jobs in Arkansas and 17, 760 in the national economy; (2) inspector (DOT 726.684-050), of which there were 45 jobs in Arkansas and 3, 965 nationwide; and, (3) machine tender (DOT 731.685-014), of which there were 166 jobs in Arkansas and 14, 100 nationally. (Tr. 181) The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2012, the date last insured. (Tr. 181-182)

Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 165), which was denied on October 23, 2014. (Tr. 1-4) Plaintiff then filed this action on December 15, 2014. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 7) Both parties have filed appeal briefs (Docs. 9, 10), and the case is 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.

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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