United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Craig Benadom, 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 the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). 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 his current application for DIB on March 19, 2012, alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2009, due to arthritis, colon cancer, degenerative disc disease, sciatica, herniated disc, severe pain, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 132-134, 138-140, 170, 190). An administrative hearing was held on February 20, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared without counsel, and testified. (Tr. 26-44).
By written decision dated October 31, 2013, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe - osteoarthritis. (Tr. 15). However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 16). The ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would be unable to perform his past relevant work, and based upon Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”), Rules 202.21 and 202.14, a finding of “not disabled” was directed. (Tr. 20).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on December 30, 2014. (Tr. 1-4). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 9, 10).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
II. Applicable Law:
This Court’s role is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). 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. The ALJ’s decision must be affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. 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 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 disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
The Commissioner’s regulations require him to apply a five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2) whether the claimant had a severe physical and/or mental impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment(s) met or equaled an impairment in the listings; (4) whether the impairment(s) prevented the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant was able to perform other work in the national economy given his age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his RFC. See McCoy v. Schneider, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §404.1520, abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to assign proper weight to the opinions of Dr. Guy L. Cook, Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Robert Karas, who conducted a General Physical Examination of Plaintiff, and the opinions of the non-examining State physicians. (Doc. 9). All of these issues relate to whether the ALJ erred in his RFC determination.
In his decision, the ALJ discussed the fact that Dr. Guy L. Cook, a physician who examined Plaintiff at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, opined that Plaintiff’s neck conditions significantly affected his ability to perform his usual work, as it limited his ability to lift and carry, moderately affecting his ability to perform chores and shop, and preventing him from exercising and taking part in sports and other recreation. (Tr. 17). The ALJ noted, however, that Plaintiff had no problem with personal care, and that the records indicated Plaintiff was ...