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Thompson v. Colvin

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

August 16, 2016

RICK THOMPSON PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Rick Thompson, 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 originally brought his claims for DIB and SSI on May 18, 2010, alleging an inability to work since February 27, 2008, due to hand and arm numbness, nerve damage, severe neck pain, and overall pain. (Doc. 14, pgs.137-143, 156, 178). After a hearing on the matter, on August 1, 2011, the ALJ entered his decision denying Plaintiff’s request for benefits. (Doc. 14, pgs. 16-30). On November 2, 2013, the undersigned entered a Report and Recommendation, reversing the ALJ’s decision. (Doc. 14, p. 386). On December 12, 2013, United States District Judge P. K. Holmes, III, adopted the Report and Recommendation, instructing the ALJ to more fully and fairly develop the record regarding Plaintiff’s alleged carpal tunnel syndrome. (Doc. 14, pgs. 385-391). On July 10, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ, pursuant to the Court’s order. (Doc. 14, pgs. 392-394). In addition, Plaintiff filed a subsequent claim for Title II benefits on April 10, 2013, which the ALJ consolidated with the present claims for adjudication. (Doc. 14, p. 289). An administrative hearing was held on January 28, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Doc. 14, pgs. 331-361).

         By written decision dated June 18, 2015, the ALJ found that for purposes of the DIB claim, Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2013. (Doc. 14, p. 291). The ALJ also found that since the alleged onset date of disability, February 28, 2008, Plaintiff had the following severe impairment - carpal tunnel syndrome. (Doc. 14, p. 291). 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. (Doc. 14, p. 292). The ALJ found as follows:

Prior to January 7, 2014, the date the claimant became disabled, the claimant had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can perform frequent (rather than constant) rapid and repetitive flexion and extension of his bilateral wrists.
Beginning on January 7, 2014, the claimant has the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant can perform less than occasional reaching, handling and fingering.

(Doc. 14, pgs. 292-294). With the help of the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ determined as follows:

Prior to January 7, 2014, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a warehouse manager, …, which is light, skilled work, and as an inventory management specialist, …, which is light, skilled work. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant’s residual functional capacity.
Beginning on January 7, 2014, the claimant’s RFC has prevented the claimant from being able to perform past relevant work as his past relevant work exceeds his current RFC assessment.

(Doc. 14, p. 296). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was an individual closely approaching advanced age on January 7, 2014, the established disability onset date, and that since January 7, 2014, considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Doc. 14, p. 297). The ALJ also found that with respect to Plaintiff’s DIB application, Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act at any time through December 31, 2013, the date last insured (Doc. 14, p. 297), and that with respect to Plaintiff’s SSI application, Plaintiff has been disabled beginning on January 7, 2014. (Doc. 14, p. 298).

         This case is now before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 12, 13).

         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 ...


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