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Russell v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

October 5, 2016

KEVIN RUSSELL PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Kevin Russell, applied for disability benefits on September 12, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of August 21, 2012. (Tr. at 72). After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied his application. (Tr. at 81). The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1). The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Russell has requested judicial review. The parties have consented in writing to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge.

         For the reasons states below, this Court reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further review.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Russell had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 21, 2012. (Tr. at 74). The ALJ found at Step Two that Russell had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disorder, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Id. At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Russell's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. Id. Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Russell had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: 1) lift a maximum of ten pounds; 2) sit for six hours of an eight hour work-day; 3) stand/walk for two hours during an eight hour work-day; 4) occasionally stoop, crawl, crouch, and kneel; 5) no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and 6) no exposure to workplace hazards. (Tr. at 75) Next, the ALJ found that Russell was not capable of performing past relevant work. (Tr. at 79). Evaluating testimony from the Vocational Expert, the ALJ held that based on Russell's age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform at the sedentary level with added limitations. (Tr. 80). Consequently, the ALJ found that Russell was not disabled. (Tr. 81).

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:

[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; we also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.

Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         It is not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision of the ALJ because there is evidence in the record which contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports the decision of the ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d at 477. The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the briefs, the ALJ's decision, and the transcript of the hearing.

         B. Russell's Arguments on Appeal

         Russell argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. He contends that, because the ALJ did not assign the correct RFC, the vocational expert's testimony did not constitute substantial evidence. Russell asserts that, if the ALJ had properly evaluated Russell's credibility, the RFC would have included more limitations and would have eliminated all jobs he could perform. Finally, Russell argues that because the ALJ failed to obtain any medical opinions from treating sources, he did not fulfill his duty to adequately develop the record. Specifically, Russell argues that the ALJ should have contacted Russell's treating doctors or ordered a consultative examination.

         A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). “In determining the claimant's [RFC], the ALJ has a duty to establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of [his] impairments.” Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996). The ALJ bears the primary responsibility for assessing a claimant's “residual functional capacity” - that is, what he or she can still do, in spite of severe impairments. The ...


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