United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
MARGARET S. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.
Margaret S. Williams ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and a period of disability under Title XVI of the Act.
Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2009), the Honorable P. K. Holmes, III referred this case to this Court for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. In accordance with that referral, and after reviewing the arguments in this case, this Court recommends Plaintiff's case be REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Plaintiff protectively filed her SSI application on March 10, 2009. (Tr. 116). In this application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to diabetes, high blood pressure, and neuropathy. (Tr. 134). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of March 10, 2009. (Tr. 116). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 86-88, 93-94).
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on August 12, 2009. (Tr. 72-73). This hearing request was granted. (Tr. 75-79). Plaintiff's initial administrative hearing was held on July 14, 2010. (Tr. 26-58). Following this hearing, on September 23, 2010, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 14-22).
Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision and on June 26, 2013, the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas remanded the case for further proceedings and the Appeals Council vacated the final decision of the Commissioner on August 8, 2013. (Tr. 377-387, 438-448). Plaintiff's second administrative hearing was held on May 12, 2014. (Tr. 328-376). Plaintiff was present and was represented by Davis Duty. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") Larry Seifert testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff was fifty-four (54) years old and had completed high school. (Tr. 332).
On January 20, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 311-322). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") since March 10, 2009. (Tr. 313, Finding 1). The ALJ next found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 313, Finding 2). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined those impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 313, Finding 3).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 315-320, Finding 4). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, except is limited to frequent fingering and handling; occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed, and supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 320, Finding 5). The ALJ found Plaintiff had no PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 321, Finding 9). The ALJ based his determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to perform the requirements of a representative occupation such as a merchandise marker with approximately 2, 092 such jobs in Arkansas and 220, 601 such jobs in the nation, inspector with approximately 1, 577 such jobs in Arkansas and 131, 585 such jobs in the nation, and warehouse checker with approximately 415 such jobs in Arkansas and 28, 315 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act since March 10, 2009. (Tr. 321, Finding 10). Following this, on April 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 12. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See 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 or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines a "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), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a "substantial gainful activity"; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at ...