United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
WANDA G. PHILLIPS PLAINTIFF
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff, Wanda G. Phillips, 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 claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the provisions of Title II 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 her current application for DIB on July 11, 2012, alleging an inability to work since June 16, 2008, due to depression, borderline personality, bladder incontinence, asthma, shortness of breath, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, morbid obesity, past knee replacements (both), and past thyroidectomy. (Tr. 131-132, 294). For DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through June 30, 2010. (Tr. 299). An administrative video hearing was held on March 11, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 89-128).
By written decision dated August 19, 2014, the ALJ found that prior to the expiration of her insured status, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr. 79). Specifically, the ALJ found that prior to the expiration of her insured states, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, osteoarthritis, and cardiac dysrhythmia. However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ determined that prior to the expiration of her insured status, 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. 80). The ALJ found that prior to the expiration of her insured status, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she can frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
(Tr. 80). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that prior to the expiration of her insured status, Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a social service worker, and a social service worker for health service. (Tr. 83).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which after reviewing additional evidence submitted by Plaintiff, denied that request on December 1, 2014. (Tr. 1-7). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 8). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 10, 11).
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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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), 1382c (a)(3)(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 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 her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of her ...