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Dreams v. Colvin

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

June 1, 2016

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



         Plaintiff, David Dreams, 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 filed his current applications for DIB and SSI on April 3, 2013, alleging an inability to work since December 14, 2011, [1] due to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, arthritis, vision problems, and fatigue. (Tr. 260-272, 305, 312). An administrative hearing was held on April 15, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 25-51).

         By written decision dated August 15, 2014, the ALJ found that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe - hypertension, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, and major depression. (Tr. 21). 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. 22). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except he is limited to work consisting of simple tasks with simple instructions. (Tr. 23). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined that during the relevant time period, Plaintiff would not be able to perform his past relevant work, but there were other jobs Plaintiff would be able to perform, such as blending tank tender, inspector/checker, and warehouse checker. (Tr. 30).

         Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which considered additional evidence and denied that request on December 3, 2014. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). 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.

         III. Discussion:

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his RFC assessment because: the ALJ’s mental RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence in light of new medical evidence properly submitted after the hearing; because the ALJ erred in failing to consider Plaintiff’s need for the use of a cane; and because the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff could perform a full range of light work. (Doc. 11).

         A. Credibility Analysis:

         In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, but that Plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of the symptoms were not entirely credible. (Tr. 25). The ALJ was required to consider all the evidence relating to Plaintiff’s subjective complaints including evidence presented by third parties that relates to: (1) Plaintiff’s daily activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of his pain; (3)

         precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of his medication; and (5) functional restrictions. See id. While an ALJ may not discount a claimant’s subjective complaints solely because the medical evidence fails to support them, an ALJ may discount those complaints where inconsistencies appear in the record as a whole. Id. As the Eighth Circuit has observed, “Our touchstone is that [a claimant’s] credibility is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).

         In his decision, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was able to take care of all activities of daily living, except as limited by pain, he was able to drive, take care of his personal needs, shop for groceries, cook, wash his clothes, and attend church. (Tr. 22). The Court also notes that during the relevant time period, on April 2, 2014, Plaintiff advised Clark Williams, PHD, LPC, of Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center (WACGC), that he had been out of town taking care of his mother after her surgery. (Tr. 800). On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff advised Mr. Williams that he wanted to go to visit his mother again for a couple of weeks, because she was helping take care of her grandchildren and he wanted to go help her out for a while. (Tr. 803). This type of activity is inconsistent with allegations of disabling impairments. It is also noteworthy that Plaintiff continued to smoke cigarettes and marijuana during the relevant time period. (Tr. 107, 692, 767, 841, 845). It was reported on August 19, 2014, that the last time Plaintiff used marijuana was July 4. In a report dated August 22, 2014, from Valley Behavioral Health System, it was reported that Plaintiff’s urine drug screen was positive for THC. (Tr. 841). The Court also notes that on September 17, 2013, James Gattis, APN, of ...

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