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Kimbley v. Berryhill

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

February 3, 2017

SAMUEL M. KIMBLEY PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration[1] DEFENDANT

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          HONORABLE MARK E. FORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Samuel M. Kimbley, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the 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 filed his application for DIB on July 14, 2009, alleging an onset date of February 20, 2009, due to spinal herniation, scoliosis, osteoarthritis, neuropathy and depression. (T. 62) Plaintiff’s date last insured is December 31, 2013. (Tr. 135) The Commissioner denied his application initially and on reconsideration. (T. 60-61) At Plaintiff’s request, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Hon. Edward Starr, held an administrative hearing on December 14, 2010. (Tr. 39-59) Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel.

         On March 10, 2011, ALJ Starr issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 11-28) On March 15, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision, which rendered it the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3) Plaintiff then filed an appeal with this Court, who remanded the matter to the ALJ on June 27, 2014, with directions to provide for an updated MRI of Plaintiff’s lumbar spine in order to make a proper determination of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 573-82)

         On December 4, 2014, the ALJ held a second hearing, at which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified. (Tr. 516-44) On, July 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a new decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 490-508) The ALJ concluded Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) from his alleged onset date (“AOD”) of February 20, 2009, through his date last insured (“DLI”) of December 31, 2013, and had severe impairments of degenerative disc/joint disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, depression, anxiety and peripheral neuropathy. (Tr. 495-96) The ALJ further found Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work with occasional crawling, balancing, climbing, kneeling, stooping, and/or crouching; use of a cane to ambulate; routine but superficial interpersonal contact; complexity of tasks is learned by experience, with several variables and where the judgment used is within limits; and, where the supervision required is little for routine tasks and detailed for non-routine tasks. (Tr. 499-507) After considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, RFC, and testimony of the vocational expert, Floyd Massey, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs existing in the national economy such as: data entry clerk, bill sorter, and document preparer. (Tr. 507-08)

         Plaintiff declined to file written exceptions to the ALJ’s decision to the Appeals Council within 30 days of the ALJ’s decision, and the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision on its own within 60 days of the ALJ’s decision, which thereafter rendered the ALJ’s decision the final administrative decision of the Commissioner. On November 20, 2015, Plaintiff timely filed this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ’s decision. (ECF No. 1) This matter is before the undersigned for Report and Recommendation. Both parties have filed briefs, and the case is ready for decision. (ECF Nos. 11 & 12)

         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). The Court 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, the Court 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). 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). 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). Only if she 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         III. Discussion:

         The Court must determine whether substantial evidence, taking the record as a whole, supports the Commissioner’s decision that Plaintiff had not been disabled from the AOD on February 20, 2009, through Plaintiff’s DLI of December 31, 2013. Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal, which can be summarized as: (A) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record, and (B) the ALJ erred in his RFC determination. (Doc. 11, pp. 10-16)

         The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs and the ALJ’s opinion, and ...


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