United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Jean Johnson, 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 27, 2013,
and her application for SSI on November 7, 2013. (ECF No. 10,
p. 51). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges disability due
to migraines, a herniated disc, peripheral neuropathy in her
lower extremities, bilateral hip pain, meralgia paresthetica,
anxiety, high blood pressure, and a brain tumor. (ECF No. 10,
p. 258). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of August 16, 2012.
(ECF No. 10, pp. 51, 254). These applications were denied
initially and again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 10, pp.
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied
applications, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No.
10, pp. 161-62). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was
held on August 27, 2014, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No. 10,
pp. 67-94). Plaintiff appeared in person and was represented
by Jack Rawlins. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Seth Langley testified at this hearing.
Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was
forty-three (43) years old, which is defined as a
“younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563(c), 416.963(c). As for her level of education,
Plaintiff graduated high school and earned a vocational
degree as a Licensed Practical Nurse (“LPN”).
(ECF No. 10, pp. 74-75).
this hearing, on December 3, 2014, the ALJ entered an
unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for
DIB and SSI. (ECF No. 10, pp. 48-61). In this decision, the
ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements
of the Act through December 31, 2017. (ECF No. 10, p. 53,
Finding 1). The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in
Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since August
16, 2012, Plaintiff's alleged onset date. (ECF No. 10, p.
53, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, herniated nucleus pulposus at ¶ 4-5
and L5-S1 status post laminectomy discectomy, and migraine
headaches. (ECF No. 10, p. 53, 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. 10, pp. 53-54, Finding 4).
then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). (ECF No. 10, pp. 54-59, 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] needs a job with simple tasks and simple
instructions.” Id. The ALJ then determined
Plaintiff was unable to perform her Past Relevant Work
(“PRW”). (ECF No. 10, p. 59, 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 fast food worker and a cleaner/housekeeper. (ECF No. 10,
p. 60, Finding 10). The ALJ therefore determined Plaintiff
had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from
August 16, 2012, Plaintiff's alleged onset date, through
December 3, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF
No. 10, p. 60, Finding 11).
on January 21, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the
Appeals Council (ECF. No. 10, pp. 42-47). The Appeals Council
denied this request on October 30, 2015. (ECF No. 10, pp.
5-11). On December 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present
appeal with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to
the jurisdiction of this Court on January 8, 2016. (ECF No.
6). 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 five issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ failed to evaluate
Plaintiff's subjective complaints in accordance with
Polaski; 2) In light of evidence submitted to the
Appels Council, the decision must be reversed because the
record as a whole, including the new evidence, does not
support the ALJ's determination; 3) The ALJ failed to
reach an RFC determination which is based on substantial
evidence; 4) The VE's testimony was based upon a
hypothetical question that did not include all those
impairments that are substantially supported by the record as
a whole; and 5) The ALJ failed to fulfill his duty to develop
the record by ordering a consultative examination. (ECF No.
11). Because I find the ALJ erred in his analysis of the