United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
THOMAS O. HUGHES PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security AdministrationDEFENDANT
ERIN L. SETSER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Thomas Hughes, 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 his claims for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) 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.
protectively filed his applications for DIB and SSI on
November 7, 2012. (ECF No. 14, p. 14). In his applications,
Plaintiff alleges disability due to emphysema, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), colostomy
problems, heart problems, and high blood pressure. (ECF No.
14, p. 200). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of January 1,
2010. (ECF No. 14, pp. 14, 195). These applications were
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 14,
pp. 14, 48-97).
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his denied
applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No.
14, p. 113). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held
on February 12, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 14,
pp. 26-46). Plaintiff was present and was represented by
Matthew Ketcham. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Deborah Steele testified at this hearing.
Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was
fifty-six (56) years old, which is defined as a “person
of advanced age” under 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563(e), 416.963(e). (ECF No. 14, p. 26, 195). As for his
level of education, Plaintiff has earned a GED. (ECF No. 14,
this hearing, on April 17, 2014, the ALJ entered an
unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for
DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 14, pp. 11-21). In this decision, the
ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of
the Act through March 31, 2010. (ECF No. 14, p. 16, Finding
1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial
Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2010,
his alleged onset date. (ECF No. 14, p. 16, Finding 2). The
ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”) and status post repair of abdominal
wound with colostomy placement. (ECF No. 14, pp. 17, 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. 14,
p. 17, Finding 4).
then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). (ECF No. 14, pp. 17-19, Finding 5).
First, the ALJ 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 “medium work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he
must avoid even moderate exposure to fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, poor ventilation and similar environments.”
then determined Plaintiff had no Past Relevant Work
(“PRW”). (ECF No. 14, p. 19, Finding 6). The VE
testified at the administrative hearing regarding these
issues. (ECF No. 14, pp. 42-44). 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 door
greeter, store laborer, and a bundle clerk. (ECF No. 14, pp.
19-20, 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 April 17,
2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 14, p. 20,
on May 7, 2014, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals
Council (ECF. No. 14, p. 9). The Appeals Council denied this
request on August 25, 2015. (ECF No. 14, pp. 5-8). On October
30, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court.
(ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of
this Court on November 2, 2015. (ECF No. 5). This case is now
ready for decision.
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.
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), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff
must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has
lasted for at least twelve consecutive months.
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 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 age,
education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). Only if she
reaches the final stage does the fact finder consider
Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light
of his 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. §§