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Douglas v. Colvin

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

March 11, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, DEFENDANT



Plaintiff, Karen Douglas, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (the Commissioner) denying her claims 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:

On March 15, 2012, the Plaintiff filed her application for DIB alleging disability since January 30, 2012, due to osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease (“DDD”), headaches, memory loss, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (“POTS”), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome (“CTS”), incontinence, headaches, and chronic pain syndrome. (Tr. 148-161, 216-217, 242, 246-262, 269, 277-280, 501-502) Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and on reconsideration. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held an administrative hearing via video conferencing on May 31, 2013. (Tr. 60-91) Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

At the time of the administrative hearing, the Plaintiff was 49 years old and possessed a high school education, two years of college credit, and an insurance license. (Tr. 50, 243) She had past relevant work (”PRW”) experience as a clerical worker and production assembler (Tr. 49, 66-70, 207-214, 230-240, 244)

On August 16, 2013, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff’s osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, and depression were severe, but did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 41-46) After partially discrediting the Plaintiff’s subjective complaints, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except:

she can climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs at most occasionally; can balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl occasionally; she can handle and finger frequently on a bilateral basis; and, she can perform work in which interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the work is learned by rote with few variables and limited judgment, and the supervision involved is simple, direct, and concrete.

(Tr. 46) With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ then concluded the Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a production assembler and could perform work as a mail sorter and routing clerk, power screw driver operator, and extrusion press operator. (Tr. 49, 51)

The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff’s request for review on November 18, 2014. (Tr. 1-7) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1) This case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 11, 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). 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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