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Smeja v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

October 13, 2016

JOHN K. SMEJA PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         John K. Smeja (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and a period of disability under Title II of the Act.

         The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed his disability application on September 11, 2013. (Tr. 11). In his application, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to left ankle fracture, left hip fracture, knee pain, sleep apnea, hypertension, and dyslexia. (Tr. 169). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of July 27, 2011. (Tr. 11). This application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 83-88).

         After Plaintiff's application was denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his application, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 89-90). Thereafter, on December 9, 2014, the ALJ held an administrative hearing on Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 23-55). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Frederick Spencer. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Juanita Grant testified at this hearing. Id. During this hearing, Plaintiff testified he was fifty-three (53) years old and had a high school diploma (Tr. 30).

         On June 26, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's disability application. (Tr. 11-18). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status of the Act through March 31, 2017. (Tr. 13, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since July 27, 2011. (Tr. 13, Finding 2).

         The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, left ankle fracture, and left hip fracture. (Tr. 13, Finding 3). 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. 13, Finding 4).

         In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and determined his RFC. (Tr. 14-16). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found his claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, except he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; could never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; could occasionally operate foot controls with the left foot; and was limited to performing jobs that did not require complex written communication. (Tr. 14, Finding 5).

         The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 16, Finding 6). The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ then considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 16, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing on this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following occupations: (1) small products assembler with 206, 600 such jobs in the nation and 2, 340 such jobs in the state, (2) furniture rental clerk with 430, 700 such jobs in the nation and 3, 390 such jobs in the state, and (3) information clerk with 973, 000 such jobs in the nation and 7, 610 such jobs in the state Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this other work, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from July 27, 2011 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 17, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 7). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-6). On November 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 3, 2015. ECF No. 5. 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) (2010); 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. See Cox 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. §§ ...


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