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Pierson v. Colvin

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

January 25, 2017

PAULA PIERSON PLAINTIFF
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Paula Pierson, 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 her claims for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits 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 protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on March 6, 2012. (ECF No. 13, p. 15, 181). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve damage at C7 and L5, bipolar disorder, a right knee injury, and hyperthyroidism. (ECF No. 13, p. 14, 202). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of January 1, 2010. (ECF No. 13, p. 14, 181). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 13, pp. 86, 89, 98, 100).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No. 13, p. 103). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on September 9, 2013, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 13, pp. 35-81). Plaintiff appeared via video teleconference from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and was represented by Greg Thurman. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Zach Langley testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was forty-six (46) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). (ECF No. 13, p. 39). As for her level of education, Plaintiff graduated with a high school diploma. (ECF No. 13, pp. 39-40).

         After this hearing, on February 28, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 13, pp. 12-29). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. (ECF No. 13, p. 17, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2010, her alleged onset date. (ECF No. 13, p. 17, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease of the right knee status post-surgery, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine status post-surgery, mild osteoarthritis/degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome status post-right carpal tunnel release surgery, bipolar disorder, and adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression. (ECF No. 13, pp. 17-18, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404 (“Listings”). (ECF No. 13, pp. 18-19, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 13, pp. 19-27, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she is limited to no climbing, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; only occasional balancing and stooping; only occasional overhead work bilaterally; and frequent but not constant handling and fingering bilaterally. She must also avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, including driving as part of work. The claimant is further able to perform work involving simple, routine, repetitive tasks, with incidental interpersonal contact and simple, direct, and concrete supervision.

Id. at 19.

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was unable to perform her Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF No. 13, p. 28, Finding 6). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. (ECF No. 13, pp. 73-79). Based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform, such as a call out operator, a bonder, semiconductor, and as a surveillance system monitor. (ECF No. 13, pp. 28-29, Finding 10). Because jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy which Plaintiff can perform, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from January 1, 2010, through February 28, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 13, p. 29, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, on April 24, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council (ECF. No. 13, pp. 249-51). The Appeals Council denied this request on September 10, 2015. (ECF No. 13, pp. 6-9). On November 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 12, 2015. (ECF No. 5). This case is now ready for decision.

         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 her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that has lasted at least one year and that prevents her 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), ...


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