Jackson v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable James R. Marschewski on February 21, 2014. (src)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Civil No. 13-3014
CAROLYN W. COLVIN1, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Kenneth Jackson, 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 December 28, 2010, alleging an
onset date of December 28, 2010, due to broken bones, a bad back, and hernias. Tr. 29-30, 115,
122, 167-168, 190-191. His claims were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. An
administrative hearing was then held on November 10, 2011. Tr. 24-52. Plaintiff was present
and represented by counsel.
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Social Security Commissioner on February 14, 2013. Pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn W. Colvin has been substituted for Commissioner Michael J. Astrue as the
defendant in this suit.
At the time of the hearing, he was 45 years of age and possessed a high school education
with past relevant work (“PRW”) as a carpenter and laborer. Tr. 17, 27, 29-3, 115, 158-165.
On December 2, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) concluded that, although
severe, Plaintiff’s back impairment and hernia did not meet or equal any Appendix 1 listing. Tr.
13. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff maintained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform the sedentary work, except that he could occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel,
stoop, crouch, and reach overhead with his right arm. Tr. 13. With the assistance of a vocational
expert, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform work as a machine operator,
assembler/production worker, and cashier II. Tr. 18.
Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, but his request for review was
denied on December 19, 2012. Tr. 1-4. 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.9,
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments
are presented in the parties’ briefs and the ALJ’s opinion, and are repeated here only to the extent
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).
On February 11, 2011, Dr. Shannon Brownfield performed a consultative examination.
Tr. 262-266. Dr. Brownfield noted limited lumbar flexion to 75 degrees, limited motion in the
right shoulder to 105 degrees, limited motion in the left shoulder to 90 degrees, and limited
motion in the right knee to 105 degrees. After diagnosing Plaintiff with right shoulder pain
secondary to an old clavicle fracture and possible torn rotator cuff, lower back pain secondary
to degenerative disk disease or osteoarthritis, and right knee pain secondary to a possible
meniscal tear or osteoarthritis, he assessed moderate to severe limitations with regard to
Plaintiff’s use of his right shoulder and his ability to stoop, bend, and lift.. Unfortunately,
however, Dr. Brownfield did not order objective tests to further investigate the source of
Plaintiff’s pain, did not define the terms moderate or severe, and was not asked to complete an
As the record stands, the evidence reveals that Plaintiff suffered from a right inguinal
hernia that necessitated surgery, bulging disks at the L4-5 and L5-S1 levels, right shoulder pain,
and right knee pain. However, the record does not contain an RFC assessment from an
examining physician. Given that the objective evidence did reveal a limited range of motion in
the lumbar spine, both shoulders, and the right knee, we believe that an RFC assessment from
an examining source is necessary to establish Plaintiff’s true work-related limitations. Further,
we believe that Dr. Brownfield’s notations concerning the presence of a possible rotator cuff and
meniscal tear require remand for further development of the record in this regard. Frankl v.
Shalala, 47 F.3d 935, 938 (8th Cir. 1995)(ALJ must fully and fairly develop the record so that
a just determination of disability may be made).
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 21st day of February 2014.
/s/ J. Marschewski
HON. JAMES R. MARSCHEWSKI
CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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