York v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable James R. Marschewski on July 25, 2013. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
RICHARD ALAN YORK
Civil No. 12-3121
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Richard York, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (Commissioner)
denying his claim for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act
(hereinafter “the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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).
The Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on November 18, 2009, alleging an
onset date of May 31, 2003, due to asthma, psoriasis, obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”),
mood disorder/bipolar disorder, and dependent personality disorder. Tr. 116-130, 152, 210. His
claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 65-73. An administrative
hearing was then held on December 1, 2010. Tr. 26-64. Plaintiff was present and represented
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 48 years of age and possessed an eleventh grade
education. Tr. 31. He had past relevant work (“PRW”) experience as a machinist. Tr. 31, 153,
On June 16, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) concluded that, although
severe, Plaintiff’s asthma, obsessive-compulsive disorder (“OCD”), mood disorder/bipolar
disorder, and dependent personality disorder did not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. Tr.
12. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels , but must avoid even moderate exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation and is limited to only simple work activities on
a routine basis which do not involve any contact with the general public. Tr. 16. With the
assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ then found that Plaintiff could perform work as an
assembly worker (plumbing hardware assembler and assembler-light fixtures), production
inspector, and lamp inspector. Tr. 22.
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but said request for review was
denied on August 14, 2012. Tr. 1-5. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. ECF No. 1. This
case is before the undersigned by consent of the parties. Both parties have filed appeal briefs,
and the case is now ready for decision. ECF No. 7, 8, 9.
This court’s role is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the Commissioner’s decision. Id. “Our review extends beyond examining
the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ’s decision; we also consider
evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision.” Id. As long as there is substantial
evidence in the record to support the Commissioner’s decision, the court may not reverse the
decision simply because substantial evidence exists in the record to support a contrary outcome,
or because the court would have decided the case differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742,
747 (8th Cir. 2001). If we find it possible “to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence,
and one of those positions represents the Secretary’s findings, we must affirm the decision of the
Secretary.” Cox, 495 F.3d at 617 (internal quotation and alteration omitted).
It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden
of proving his 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),
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),
1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that his disability, not simply his impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months.
The Evaluation Process:
The Commissioner’s regulations require him 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 his or 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 or her age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(f)(2003). Only if the final stage is reached does the fact finder consider the Plaintiff’s age,
education, and work experience in light of his or her residual functional capacity. See McCoy
v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C .F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
Of particular concern to the undersigned is the ALJ’s RFC determination. RFC is the
most a person can do despite that person’s limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). A disability
claimant has the burden of establishing his or her RFC. See Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d
731, 737 (8th Cir. 2004). “The ALJ determines a claimant’s RFC based on all relevant evidence
in the record, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the
claimant’s own descriptions of his or her limitations.” Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 844
(8th Cir. 2009); see also Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ is responsible
for determining RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of
treating physicians and others, and claimant’s own description of his limitations). Limitations
resulting from symptoms such as pain are also factored into the assessment. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(3). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has held that a
“claimant’s residual functional capacity is a medical question.” Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700,
704 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, an ALJ’s determination concerning a claimant’s RFC must be
supported by medical evidence that addresses the claimant’s ability to function in the
workplace.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003); see also Jones, 619 F.3d at
971 (RFC finding must be supported by some medical evidence).
After reviewing the evidence in this case, the undersigned finds that remand is necessary
to allow the ALJ to reconsider Plaintiff’s mental impairments. The evidence supports Plaintiff’s
allegations of difficulty being around others, revealing that he would require work that allow him
to work independently. Tr. 35-37, 237-242,264-265279-284. The ALJ acknowledged that
these limitations were supported by the record, however, he failed to fully incorporate them into
his RFC assessment. Specifically, he failed to make provisions for Plaintiff’s difficulty working
with or near co-workers and supervisors. As such, this matter must be remanded for further
Additionally, at the administrative hearing, Plaintiff requested that the record remain
open for 30 days to allow him to obtain records from TriCounty Mental Healthcare Center ,
where he was treated for two years.1 His request was granted ,but a review of the record reveals
that these treatment notes are not included. Although it appears Plaintiff initially requested the
records from the wrong location, there is nothing to indicate why his second attempt to obtain
these records was unsuccessful. As such, on remand, the ALJ is directed to develop the record
with regard to these treatment records. See Snead v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 834, 838-39 (8th Cir.
2004) (“Well-settled precedent confirms that the ALJ bears a responsibility to develop the record
fairly and fully, independent of the claimant's burden to press his case” to discover “evidence
[which] might . . . alter the outcome of the disability determination”). It is clear to the
Plaintiff’s contention that he was treated at TriCounty is bolstered by the statement of his girlfriend,
who submitted a statement indicating that they met several years prior while at TriCounty. Tr. 222.
undersigned that these records would be both relevant and material to Plaintiff’s disability
Accordingly, we conclude that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence and should be reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
DATED this 25th day of July 2013.
/s/ J. Marschewski
HON. JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI
CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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