United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. SETSER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff, Jon Eric Bandy, 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 claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the provisions of Titles II and XVI 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 applications for DIB and SSI on October 13, 2011, alleging an inability to work since September 24, 2011, due to seizures, learning disability, memory problems, headaches, and right shoulder problems. (Tr. 145-156, 181, 185). An administrative hearing was held on February 28, 2013, at which Plaintiff appeared with his fiance and counsel, and he and his fiance testified. (Tr. 51-75).
By written decision dated September 6, 2013, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe-seizure disorder. (Tr. 13). 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. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he can frequently climb stairs and ramps, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and crouch, but he can never climb ropes and ladders. He can occasionally tolerate humidity, temperature extremes, pulmonary irritants, and vibrations. The claimant must avoid unprotected heights and moving machinery, and he cannot operate a moving vehicle.
(Tr. 14). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would be able to perform his past relevant work as a fast food worker. (Tr. 21).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which denied that request on February 19, 2015. (Tr. 1-5). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 11, 12).
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 her 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; 416.920. 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; 416.920.
Plaintiff raises the following issues in this matter: 1) Whether the ALJ erred in his RFC assessment; 2) Whether the ALJ erred in determining Plaintiff's impairments did not meet a listing; and 3) Whether the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis. (Doc. 11).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff's seizures under Listings 11.02 and 11.03. "The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to establish that his or her impairment meets or equals a listing." Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). "To meet a listing, an impairment must meet all of the listing's specified criteria." Id . "To establish equivalency, a claimant must present medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the one most similar listed impairment.'" Carlson v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2010)(quoting from Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 531 (1990)). "[W]hen determining medical equivalency, an impairment can be considered alone or in combination with other impairments." Carlson, 604 F.3d at 595. ...