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Carter v. Colvin

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

January 17, 2017

GARY DON CARTER PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HONORABLE MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Gary Carter, 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”) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“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 April 18, 2013, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2010, due to a separated collar bone on the right side, deteriorating muscles in the left arm, a very large knot on the left arm/shoulder area, and numbness in his right arm down to his hand. (Tr. 13, 166-175, 196) For purposes of Title II, Plaintiff's date last insured was September 30, 2011. (Tr. 13, 176) The Commissioner denied his applications initially and on reconsideration. At the Plaintiff's request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held an administrative hearing on July 7, 2014. (Tr. 28-51) Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

         At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 53 years old and possessed an eighth grade education. (Tr. 31) He had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a millwright, and he worked with equipment and maintenance. (Tr. 34)

         On October 30, 2014, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's essential hypertension, peripheral neuropathy, cervical spondylosis, spinal stenosis at the C4-5 and C5-6 levels with sequelae from same, and right shoulder lipoma 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. 15) He then found Plaintiff capable of performing light work involving occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The ALJ determined Plaintiff could frequently finger and handle, but could not perform overhead work with his dominant right upper extremity. (Tr. 17) With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ found the Plaintiff could perform work as a price marker, plastic molding machine tenderer, and screwdriver operator. (Tr. 22)

         The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review on June 30, 2015. (Tr. 1-4) 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. 11, 14)

         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 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 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 functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         III. Discussion:

         Of particular concern to the undersigned is the ALJ's RFC determination. RFC is the most a person can do despite that person's limitations. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1545, 416.945. A disability claimant has the burden of establishing his or her RFC. Vossen, 612 F.3d at 1016. “The ALJ determines a claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his or her limitations.” Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010); Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 844 (8th Cir. 2009). Limitations resulting from symptoms such as pain are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. '' 404.1545(a)(3), 416.945(a)(3). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a “claimant's residual functional capacity is a medical question.” Miller, 784 F.3d at 479 (citing Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, an ALJ's determination concerning a claimant's RFC must be supported by medical evidence that addresses the claimant's ability to function in the workplace. Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092 (8th Cir. 2012).

         The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was capable of performing light work with occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; frequent fingering and handling; and, no overhead work with his right upper extremity. However, this assessment fails to account for all of the limitations associated with Plaintiff's upper extremities. On April 22, 2013, an in-person field office report with examiner, R. Bauer, indicates that Plaintiff had a very large “bump” at the junction ...


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