Quick v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on November 1, 2016. (tg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JEFFERSON D. QUICK
Civil No. 3:15-cv-03102
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Jefferson D. Quick (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the
Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), and
a period of disability under Titles II and XVI of the Act.
The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all
proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and
conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 6.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues
this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed his disability applications on June 6, 2012. (Tr. 19, 153-165). In
his applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to diabetes, neuropathy, depression, and
hypertension. (Tr. 192). During his administrative hearing, Plaintiff also alleged being disabled due
to back pain. (Tr. 46). His attorney characterized his back pain as follows: “He’s got a lot of chronic
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF No. ____” The
transcript pages for this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
back pain associated with the heavy works that he has done in the past.” Id. Plaintiff alleges an
onset date of January 10, 2008. (Tr. 19, 153). These applications were denied initially and again
upon reconsideration. (Tr. 83-86).
After Plaintiff’s applications were denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on
his applications, and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 41-82). Thereafter, on November 14,
2013, the ALJ held an administrative hearing on Plaintiff’s applications. Id. At this hearing,
Plaintiff was present and was represented by Fredrick Spencer. Id. Plaintiff, two witnesses for
Plaintiff, and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jim Spragins testified at this hearing. Id.
On May 30, 2014, after the administrative hearing, the ALJ entered a fully unfavorable
decision denying Plaintiff’s applications. (Tr. 16-34). The ALJ found Plaintiff last met the insured
status requirements of the Act through June 30, 2012. (Tr. 21, Finding 1). The ALJ determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 10, 2008, his
alleged onset date. (Tr. 21, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: depressive disorder (not otherwise specified); math disorder; generalized anxiety
disorder; personality disorder; and diabetes mellitus with neuropathy. (Tr. 21-22, Finding 3). The
ALJ also determined Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any
of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr.
22-23, Finding 4).
The ALJ found Plaintiff was forty-one (41) years old, which is defined as a “younger person”
under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (2008) (SSI) and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (2008) (DIB). (Tr. 33,
Finding 7). As for his education, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had at least a high school education
and was able to communicate in English. (Tr. 33, Finding 8).
The ALJ then considered Plaintiff’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 23-33,
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 the following:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the
claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except the claimant is able to perform work
that is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, involving only simple, workrelated decisions, with few, if any, workplace changes and no more than incidental
contact with coworkers, supervisors and the general public.
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 33, Finding 6).
Considering his RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of his PRW. Id. The ALJ
also considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 33-34, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative
hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the capacity to perform the following two occupations: (1) small production machine operator
(sedentary, unskilled) with 4,000 such jobs in Arkansas and 500,000 such jobs in the nation; and (2)
small product assembler (sedentary, unskilled) with 4,000 such jobs in Arkansas and 203,000 such
jobs in the nation. Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this work, the ALJ also
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from January 10, 2008
through the date of his decision or through May 30, 2014. (Tr. 34, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the review of the Appeals Council. (Tr. 14). On August 14,
2015, the Appeals Council denied this request for review. (Tr. 1-4). On October 13, 2015, Plaintiff
filed his Complaint in this matter. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court
on October 15, 2015. ECF No. 6. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 10-11. This case
is now ready for decision.
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2010); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
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. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). 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. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well-established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of
proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one
year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel,
160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines
a “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 or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive
months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses
the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently
engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that
significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3)
whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment
listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his
or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers
the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this
analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
In his appeal brief, Plaintiff claims the ALJ’s disability determination is not supported by
substantial evidence in the record. ECF No. 1. Specifically, Plaintiff raises one point of error: the
ALJ erred in failing to find his back impairment was severe. ECF No. 10 at 8-11. Because the Court
finds the ALJ erred by finding his back impairment was non-severe, this case must be reversed and
A claimant suffers from a severe impairment if that impairment is more than slight and if that
impairment affects the claimant’s ability to do his or her basic work activities. See Householder v.
Bowen, 861 F.2d 191, 192 n.1 (8th Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court has also held that a claimant does
not suffer from a severe impairment where the claimant only suffers from “slight abnormalities that
do not significantly limit any ‘basic work activity.’” See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 155 (1987)
(O’Connor, S., concurring) (emphasis added); see also Brown v. Bowen, 827 F.2d 311, 311-12 (8th
Cir. 1987) (adopting Justice O’Connor’s language from Bowen v. Yuckert). See also Kirby v. Astrue,
500 F.3d 705, 707-09 (8th Cir. 2007).
Furthermore, the standard for determining whether a claimant suffers from a severe
impairment is a low standard. See Nicola v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 885, 887 (8th Cir. 2007) (reversing the
decision of the ALJ and holding that a diagnosis of borderline intellectual functioning should have
been considered severe because that diagnosis was supported by sufficient medical evidence). If the
ALJ errs by finding a severe impairment is not severe, the ALJ’s disability determination must be
reversed and remanded. See Nicola, 480 F.3d at 887.
In this case, Plaintiff alleged being disabled due to back pain. (Tr. 46). To support this
claim, Plaintiff has presented a number of medical records demonstrating he suffers from chronic
back pain. See, e.g., Tr. 837. Significantly, the ALJ disregarded the results of a CT scan wherein
Plaintiff was found to have “significant right paramedian and foraminal spurring” in his back: “At
C6-7 . . . C7-T1 there is significant right paramedian and foraminal spurring which should be
symptomatic.” (Tr. 849) (emphasis added). This CT scan was taken in December of 2013. (Tr.
849). As a result of this CT scan, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a cervical strain, and he was found
to be “significant for chronic pain.” This time-period was approximately six months before the
ALJ’s decision in this case, and the ALJ should have considered these records and determined
Plaintiff’s back impairment was severe under the low standard for a severe impairment. Based upon
this evidence alone, the Court finds the ALJ’s determination Plaintiff had no severe back impairment
was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Thus, this case must be reversed and
remanded for further consideration of this issue.
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff, is not supported by substantial evidence and should be reversed and remanded. A
judgment incorporating these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
52 and 58.
ENTERED this 1st day of November 2016.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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