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Smith v. Colvin

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

March 11, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Eresha G. Smith, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her 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 her application for DIB on April 16, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of April 15, 2010, due to “neck, back, shoulders injury due to car accident, kidney problems.” (T. 109-112, 131) The Commissioner denied her application initially on June 4, 2012 (T. 64-66), and denied it at reconsideration on November 6, 2012 (T. 72-73). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (T. 76-77), and the hearing was held on April 16, 2013, before the Hon. Harold D. Davis, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (T. 26-61) Plaintiff was present and represented by her attorney, Andrew Flake. (T. 26, 28) Also present was Donna Humphries, a vocational expert (“VE”). (T. 28)

At the time of hearing, Plaintiff was 41 years old with a high school education and one year of cosmetology school. (T. 33) She had past relevant work (”PRW”) experience as a child care worker and home health aide. (T. 35-36, 56, 132, 144)

On August 16, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: hypertension, osteoporosis, asthma, lumbago, myofascial pain disorder, status post pediatric cancer treatment, neuropathy, depression, and anxiety. (T. 12) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (T. 12-14) After partially discrediting Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except that she could only work in a controlled environment, in which there is no exposure to temperature changes or concentrated amounts of dust, fumes, or smoke, and she would be limited to work involving simple tasks and simple instructions and only incidental contact with the public. (T. 14-19)

With the help of the VE, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her PRW (T. 19-20), but that she could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as hand packager (DOT 920.687-082; light, unskilled), with 1, 000 such jobs existing in Arkansas and 150, 000 in the national economy; small products assembler (DOT 706.684-022; light, unskilled), with 3, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 400, 000 in the national economy; and, inspector (DOT 712.684-050; light, unskilled), with 2, 000 such jobs in Arkansas and 285, 000 in the national economy. (T. 20-21) The ALJ then found Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from April 15, 2010 through the date of the decision. (T. 21)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on December 13, 2014. (T. 1-3) Plaintiff filed this action on February 13, 2015. (Doc. 1) This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. (Doc. 5) Both parties have filed appeal briefs (Docs. 12, 13), and the case is now 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 her disability, not simply her 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 residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

III. Discussion

The sole issue raised by Plaintiff on appeal is whether the ALJ erred by not ordering a psychiatric consultative examination to fully and fairly develop the record ...

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