United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division
BARRY A. BRYANT U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Sekavec (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant
to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act
(“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006),
seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) 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. 7. Pursuant to this authority, the Court
issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a
final judgment in this matter.
application for DIB was filed on July 11, 2006. (Tr.
188-189). Plaintiff alleged she was disabled due to
scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, ruptured disc, bulging
disc, sciatic nerve, and pain. (Tr. 203). Plaintiff alleged
an onset date of February 3, 2005. (Tr. 203). This
application was denied initially, again upon reconsideration,
and after a hearing by an ALJ in a decision dated September
25, 2009. (Tr. 31-49, 82-83, 87-95, 188-192).
6, 2010, the Appeals Council granted review and remanded the
case for further proceedings. (Tr. 96-98). After a new
hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on January 18, 2011,
denying Plaintiff's DIB claim. (Tr. 10-17, 50-81). The
Appeals Council denied review of this decision. (Tr. 1-6).
Plaintiff appealed, and on June 24, 2013, this Court remanded
the case to the Commissioner. (Tr. 466-473).
remand, Plaintiff had an administrative hearing on June 9,
2014. (Tr. 413-443). Plaintiff was present and was
represented by counsel, Shannon Carroll, at this hearing.
Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Dianne Smith testified at this hearing.
Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was
forty-nine (49) years old. (Tr. 418).
14, 2014, the ALJ entered a partially favorable decision
finding a closed period of disability from February 3, 2005,
to March 7, 2009. (Tr. 390-407). In this decision, the ALJ
determined the Plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements of the Act through March 31, 2008. (Tr. 394,
Finding 1). The ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not engaged
in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since
February 3, 2005. (Tr. 394, Finding 2).
determined that from February 3, 2005 to March 7, 2009,
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of early chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine with a herniated disc. (Tr. 394,
Finding 3). The ALJ then determined that from February 3,
2005 to March 7, 2009, 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. 395, Finding
determined Plaintiff's closed period of disability ended
on March 8, 2009, based on medical improvement. (Tr. 401,
finding 14). This was based on an updated MRI which showed
narrowing at ¶ 5-S1, but no longer a disc herniation,
and a disc bulge with improvement of the nerve root
relevant period beginning on March 8, 2009, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff's subjective complaints were not
entirely credible. (Tr. 402-405). The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work; could lift or
carry up to ten pounds frequently, twenty pounds
occasionally; could stand or walk up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday; could not frequently bend, crouch, or
climb; and must avoid concentrated exposure to respiratory
irritants such as dust, fumes, strong odors, or extreme
changes in temperature or humidity. (Tr. 402, Finding 16).
The ALJ also restricted Plaintiff to semiskilled work where
interpersonal contact was routine, but superficial;
complexity of tasks was learned by experience, involved
several variables, and judgment was exercised within limits;
and the supervision required was little for routine tasks,
but detailed for non-routine tasks. Id.
evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work
(“PRW”). (Tr. 405, Finding 17). The ALJ found
Plaintiff was unable to perform her PRW. Id. The
ALJ, however, also determined that beginning March 8, 2009,
there was other work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 406, Finding
21). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of
the VE. Id. Specifically, the VE testified that
given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical
individual would be able to perform the requirements of a
representative occupation such as companion with 7, 500 such
jobs in the region and 270, 000 such jobs in the nation and
first aide attendant with 1, 800 such jobs in the region and
21, 000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this
finding, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's disability ended
on March 8, 2009. (Tr. 406, Finding 22).
Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision. (Tr. 384). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968.
The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 381-383). On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed the
present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court on May 23, 2016. ECF No. 7. Both
Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 11, 12. This case
is now ready for decision.
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) (2006); 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).
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. §§
423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his or her
disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months. See 42 U.S.C.
determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a
disability, the Commissioner uses the familiar five-step
sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the
claimant is presently engaged in a “substantial gainful
activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment that significantly limits the claimant's
physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities;
(3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or
equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the
regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard
to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the
claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to
perform his or her past relevant work; and (5) if the
claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the
national economy that the claimant can perform. See
Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers the
plaintiff's age, education, and work experience in light
of his or her RFC if the final stage of this analysis is
reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred: (A) by
failing to find Plaintiff met a Listing, (B) in failing to
consider Plaintiff's impairments in combination, (C) in
his credibility determination, and (D) by improperly
discrediting the objective findings of Plaintiff's
treating physician. ECF No. 11, Pgs. 7-20. In response, the
Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings.
ECF No. 12.