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Sysun v. Colvin

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

March 18, 2016

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



Plaintiff, Janet Sysun, 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 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 an application for DIB on February 23, 2012, (Tr. 100) alleging disability since September 2, 2011, due to alleged physical conditions, including fibromyalgia, thyroid disorder, arthritis in her back, and cervical disc problems. (Tr. 101) Her application was denied initially on December 18, 2012, and upon reconsideration on February 22, 2013. (Tr. 101-105, 118-120) Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 123-124), and a hearing was held on August 28, 2013, before the Hon. Harold D. Davis, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).[1] (Tr. 61-99) Plaintiff was present and represented by her attorney, Mr. Fred Caddell. (Tr. 63) Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert (“VE”), Ms. Patty Kent, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 63-93, 93-99)

Plaintiff, born in 1959, was 53 years old at the time of this administrative hearing. (Tr. 67) She remained in school until the 11th grade, and she received her GED. (Tr. 67) Plaintiff worked as a manager and regional general manager for Long John Silver’s fast food restaurant for a total of 14 years. (Tr. 71-72) Plaintiff testified that she was terminated from Long John Silver’s due to a reduction in management, but stated that she was also having health issues at the time. (Tr. 87-88)

Following the hearing, on August 28, 2013, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application for DIB. (Tr. 9-19) In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements under Title II of the Act on December 31, 2015, her date last insured. (Tr. 11) He also found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of September 2, 2011, to the date of the decision. (Tr. 11) The ALJ determined Plaintiff had severe impairments of Musculoskeletal Disorder (Back Impairment, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine), Neurological Disorder (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, post bilateral release surgery), and Mental Disorder (Mood Disorder, depression/anxiety), 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. 11-12)

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

“claimant is able to frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds and occasionally twenty pounds, sit for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday, and stand and/or walk for a total of six hours in an eight hour workday. The claimant is able to perform work that includes simple tasks requiring simple instructions.” (Tr. 14)

The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any Past Relevant Work (“PRW”); was an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date; had at least a high school 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. 17-18) 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. 18) With the assistance of a VE, 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) small product assembler (DOT 706.687-022), of which there were 4, 369 jobs in Arkansas and 294, 999 in the national economy; (2) advertising material distributor (DOT 230.687-010), of which there were 1, 163 jobs in Arkansas and 43, 125 nationwide; and, (3) motel maid (DOT 323.687-014), of which there were 1, 112 jobs in Arkansas and 132, 291 nationally. (Tr. 18) The ALJ then concluded Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from September 2, 2011, the alleged onset date, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 19)

Plaintiff requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 4), which was denied on November 24, 2014. (Tr. 1-3) Plaintiff then filed this action on January 1, 2015. (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 her 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 ...

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