United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Joyce Cole, 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 supplemental security
income (SSI) under the provisions of Title 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. § 405(g).
protectively filed her current application for SSI on May 20,
2011, alleging an inability to work since May 1, 2011, due to
the following conditions: chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD), bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and back
problems. (Tr. 245, 248). An administrative hearing was held
on September 18, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared with
counsel and testified. (Tr. 31-58). On May 31, 2013, the ALJ
issued a decision denying benefits. (Tr. 90-102). The Appeals
Council remanded the case back to the ALJ for further
consideration on May 9, 2014. (Tr. 108-111). A second
administrative hearing was held on September 22, 2014, at
which Plaintiff also appeared with counsel and testified.
January 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a written opinion, finding
that the Plaintiff had severe impairments of COPD, obesity,
degenerative disc disease, and major depressive disorder.
(Tr. 15). After reviewing the evidence in its entirety, the
ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not
meet or equal the level of severity of any listed impairments
described in Appendix 1 of the Regulations (20 CFR, Subpart
P, Appendix 1). (Tr. 16-17). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except
the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary
irritants like dusts, odors, etc.; the claimant can only
occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and/or
crouch; the claimant can perform simple, routine, repetitive
tasks, in a setting where interpersonal contact is incidental
to the work performed, and can respond to supervision that is
simple, direct, and concrete.
(Tr. 18-24). The ALJ propounded interrogatories to the
vocational expert (VE), and through her responses the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing work as a
surveillance system monitor, addressing clerk, or photo copy
document preparer. (Tr. 24-25).
on March 18, 2015, Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals
Council of the hearing decision. (Tr. 5-8). The Appeals
Council denied her request on April 21, 2016. (Tr. 1-4).
Plaintiff then filed this action on June 24, 2016. (Doc. 1).
This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent
of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both parties have submitted briefs,
and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 13, 14).
Court has reviewed the transcript in its entirety. The
complete set of facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
Court's role is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v.
Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). 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. The ALJ's decision must be
affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to
support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966
(8th Cir. 2003). 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. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747
(8th Cir. 2001). 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, the decision of the ALJ must be
affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th
well-established that a 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). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not
simply her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve
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 her age,
education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. Only if the final stage is reached does the fact
finder consider the 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.