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Clark v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, El Dorado Division

May 23, 2016

CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          BARRY A. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

         Juanita Clark ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her application for Disability Income Benefits ("DIB") and a period of disability under Title II of the Act.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and (3) (2005), the Honorable Susan O. Hickey referred this case to the Honorable Barry A. Bryant for the purpose of making a report and recommendation. The Court, having reviewed the entire transcript and relevant briefing, recommends the ALJ's determination be AFFIRMED.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff's application for DIB was filed on November 13, 2012. (Tr. 16). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to lung cancer. (Tr. 196). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of June 1, 2012. (Tr. 16). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 84-115). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her application and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 150).

         Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on May 1, 2014. (Tr. 40-83). Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel, Michael Ray, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert ("VE") James Wallace testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-eight (48) years old, had graduated from high school and completed three years of college. (Tr. 44).

         On September 11, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Tr. 16-26). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017. (Tr. 18, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity ("SGA") from June 1, 2012 through August 18, 2012, but there had been for a continuous 12 month period where Plaintiff had not engaged SGA. (Tr. 18, Finding 2, 3).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and neuropathy. (Tr. 18, Finding 4). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 ("Listings"). (Tr. 20, Finding 5).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined her RFC. (Tr. 21-24). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. The ALJ also found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform less than the full range of sedentary work; can occasionally stoop, crawl, bend, kneel, or balance; can perform frequent fingering/handling regarding the dominant upper extremities for peddles and controls; requires a stand option for ten minutes, after sitting for more than one hour, in her immediate workplace area with no disruption of the work process; requires a controlled environment with no extreme temperatures; and can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks with supervision that is simple, direct, and concrete. Id.

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work ("PRW"). (Tr. 24, Finding 7). The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform her PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 25, Finding 11). 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 document preparer with approximately 9, 400 such jobs in the region and approximately 93, 200 in the nation and order clerk with approximately 11, 270 such jobs in the region and approximately 105, 920 in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from September 11, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 26, Finding 12).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's unfavorable decision. (Tr. 11-12). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. On May 2, 2015, the Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On June 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. Both parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 10, 11. 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) (2006); 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. SeeCox 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 ...

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