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Bates v. Colvin

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

June 13, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          Raymond Zachary Bates, Plaintiff, represented by Susan E. Brockett, Nolan Caddell Reynolds P.A..

          Social Security Administration Commissioner, Defendant, represented by Michelle Marlana Myers Montemayor, Social Security Administration.


          MARK E. FORD, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Raymond Bates, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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 applications for DIB and SSI on January 22, 2013, alleging an onset date of November 10, 2012, due to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (Tr. 193, 207-208, 240) The Commissioner denied his application initially and on reconsideration. At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held an administrative hearing on November 27, 2013. (Tr. 22-45). Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel, Susan Brockett.

         At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 33 years old and possessed a high school education and two years of college credit. (Tr. 15, 27, 194) He had past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a computer help desk/tech support worker, mental health caseworker, computer support technician, grocery checker/cashier, grocery store clerk, general office clerk, and support analyst. (Tr. 29, -32, 40, 194, 199-206)

         On March 21, 2014, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's bipolar disorder and PTSD were severe, but concluded they did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Tr. 11-13) He concluded that the Plaintiff could perform work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: work consists of simple tasks with simple instructions and little contact with the public. (Tr. 13-15) With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ found the Plaintiff could perform work as a screwdriver operator, extrusion press operator, and routing clerk/router. (Tr. 16-17)

         The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on May 12, 2015. (Tr. 1-3) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (ECF No. 1) This matter is before the undersigned for report and recommendation. Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 12, 13)

         II. Applicable Law:

         This court's role is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1015 (8th Cir. 2010). 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. Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). We must affirm the ALJ's decision if the record contains substantial evidence to support it. Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014). 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. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). 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, we must affirm the ALJ's decision. Id.

         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), 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), 1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that his or her disability, not simply their 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 his or 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 his or her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Only if he reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light of his or her residual ...

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