United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division
CARLA J. PARISH NICKLAW PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security AdministrationDEFENDANT
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Robin L. Strawhacker, 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 November 6,
2013. (ECF No. 9, p. 17). In her application, Plaintiff
alleges disability due to degenerative spondylosis,
degenerative disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spines,
(“ADHD”), mild depression, obesity, scoliosis,
and changes in height. (ECF No. 9, p. 210). Plaintiff alleges
an amended onset date of May 21, 2011. (ECF No. 9, pp. 56,
206). These applications were denied initially. (ECF No. 9,
pp. 17, 80-90).
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied
application, and this hearing request was granted. (ECF No.
9, pp. 122-38). Plaintiff's administrative hearing was
held on August 11, 2015, in Syracuse, New York (ECF No. 9,
pp. 52-79). Plaintiff appeared via teleconference and was
represented by Peter Walton. Id. Plaintiff testified
at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing,
Plaintiff was thirty-three (33) years old, which is defined
as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1563(c). As for her level of education,
Plaintiff completed the tenth grade and later earned her GED.
(ECF No. 9, p. 58).
this hearing, on October 9, 2015, the ALJ entered an
unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's application for
DIB. (ECF No. 9, pp. 14-32). In this decision, the ALJ found
Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act
through September 30, 2016. (ECF No. 9, p. 19, Finding 1).
The ALJ also found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial
Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since May 21, 2011,
Plaintiff's amended alleged onset date. (ECF No. 9, p.
19, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the thoracic
spine, and fibromyalgia. (ECF No. 9, pp. 19-21, 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. 22, Finding
then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). (ECF No. 9, pp. 22-25, 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 “light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b) except she can only
perform postural activities occasionally” Id.
The ALJ then determined Plaintiff was able to perform her
Past Relevant Work (“PRW”) as a gambling broker.
(ECF No. 9, pp. 25-26, Finding 6). The ALJ therefore
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined by the Act, from May 21, 2011, Plaintiff's
alleged onset date, through October 9, 2015, the date of the
ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 9, p. 26, Finding 7).
on November 24, 2015, Plaintiff requested a review by the
Appeals Council (ECF. No. 9, pp. 11-13). The Appeals Council
denied this request on January 29, 2016. (ECF No. 9, pp.
5-10). On March 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal
with this Court. (ECF No. 1). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court on March 3, 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.
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 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). 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 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 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 her 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 two issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ erred in failing to
find Plaintiff's mental impairments of depression,
bipolar disorder, and adjustment disorder severe, and; 2) the