United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Mary Elizabeth Etzkorn, 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 and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under the provisions of Title II 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 July 21, 2013.
(ECF No. 9, p. 18). In her application, Plaintiff alleges
disability due to chronic pain, neuropathy, fibromyalgia,
diabetes, bipolar disorder, supraventricular tachycardia,
thyroid disease, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), migraine headaches, and irritable bowel
syndrome (“IBS”). (ECF No. 9, p. 243). Plaintiff
alleges an amended onset date of October 27, 2011. (ECF No.
9, pp. 18, 36). These applications were denied initially and
again upon reconsideration. (ECF No. 9, pp. 63-97).
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied
application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No.
9, pp. 115-20). Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was
held on February 13, 2015, in Fort Smith, Arkansas (ECF No.
9, pp. 33-62). Plaintiff appeared in person and was
represented by Mary Jackson. Id. Plaintiff and
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Debra Steele testified
at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing,
Plaintiff was forty-two (42) years old, which is defined as a
“younger person” under 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1563(c). As for her level of education, Plaintiff
attended some college courses but did not earn a college
degree. (ECF No. 9, pp. 38-39).
this hearing, on June 5, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable
decision denying Plaintiff’s application for DIB. (ECF
No. 9, pp. 15-25). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff
last met the insured status requirements of the Act through
March 31, 2016. (ECF No. 9, p. 20, Finding 1). The ALJ also
found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful
Activity (“SGA”) since October 27, 2010,
Plaintiff’s amended alleged onset date. (ECF No. 9, p.
20, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with
neuropathy and tachycardia. (ECF No. 9, pp. 20-21, 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,
p. 21, Finding 4).
then considered Plaintiff’s Residual Functional
Capacity (“RFC”). (ECF No. 9, pp. 21-25, 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 “sedentary work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except [Plaintiff]
can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl [and] [s]he must avoid concentrated exposure to
hazard[s] such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected
heights.” Id. The ALJ then determined
Plaintiff was able to perform her Past Relevant Work
(“PRW”) as a customer service representative and
as an account coordinator as they were actually and generally
performed. (ECF No. 9, p. 25, Finding 6). The ALJ therefore
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined by the Act, from October 27, 2010, Plaintiff’s
amended alleged onset date, through June 5, 2015, the date of
the ALJ’s decision. (ECF No. 9, p. 25, Finding 7).
on July 7, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals
Council (ECF. No. 9, pp. 11-14). The Appeals Council denied
this request on July 6, 2016. (ECF No. 9, pp. 6-10). On
August 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this
Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the jurisdiction
of this Court on August 2, 2016. (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. Id.
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). 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 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). 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
raises three issues on appeal: 1) The ALJ erred in his
evaluation of the physicians’ opinion evidence on the
record and the weight provided to those opinions; 2) the
ALJ’s RFC assessment was not supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole, and 3) The ALJ erred at
step two of the sequential evaluation process when he