United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
LISA M. CUTTER PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lisa M. Cutter, 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 claim for a period
of disability, 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 her application for DIB on May 2, 2013,
and her application for SSI on May 7, 2013. (ECF No. 9, p.
41). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due to
residuals of cancer treatment in remission, post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”), chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and emphysema. (ECF
No. 9, p. 253). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of September
1, 2010. (ECF No. 9, pp. 41, 248). These applications were
denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 9,
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied
applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No.
9, pp. 163-68). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was
held on August 22, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 9,
pp. 56-80). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented
by Laura McKinnon. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational
Expert (“VE”) James Sprague testified at this
hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff
was fifty-one (51) years old, which is defined as a
“person closely approaching advanced age” under
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). As for her
level of education, Plaintiff has a GED. (ECF No. 9, p. 61).
this hearing, on February 6, 2015, the ALJ entered an
unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for
DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 9, pp. 38-51). In this decision, the
ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements
of the Act through September 30, 2011. (ECF No. 9, p. 43,
Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in
Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since
September 1, 2010, Plaintiff's alleged onset date. (ECF
No. 9, p. 43, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had
the following severe impairments: essential hypertension,
COPD, asthma, fibromyalgia, and depression with anxiety. (ECF
No. 9, p. 43, 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. 9, pp. 44-45, Finding 4).
then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). (ECF No. 9, pp. 45-49, 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 “light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
except [she] is able to perform jobs with simple
instructions.” Id. The ALJ then determined
Plaintiff had no Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (ECF
No. 9, p. 50, Finding 6). 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 cashier II, a
price marker, and a motel housekeeper (ECF No. 9, pp. 50-51,
Finding 10). The ALJ therefore determined Plaintiff had not
been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from
September 1, 2010, Plaintiff's alleged onset date,
through February 6, 2015, the date of the ALJ's decision.
(ECF No. 9, p. 51, Finding 11).
on March 4, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals
Council (ECF. No. 9, pp. 36-37). The Appeals Council denied
this request on March 31, 2016. (ECF No. 9, pp. 5-9). On June
1, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court.
(ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of
this Court on June 14, 2016. (ECF No. 7). 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 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), 1382c(a)(3)(D). A Plaintiff
must show that her disability, not simply her 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 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 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. §§
raises three issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ failed to fully and
fairly develop the record; 2) the ALJ erred in assessing the
credibility of Plaintiff's subjective complaints; and ...