Fox v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on July 26, 2012. (src)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
KYMBERLIE K. FOX
CIVIL NO. 11-5210
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Kymberlie K. Fox, 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 claims for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the
provisions of Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act).1 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).
Plaintiff protectively filed her current application for SSI on October 14, 2008, alleging
an inability to work since October 10, 2008, due to a bipolar disorder, depression, and anger
problems. (Tr. 174,198). An administrative hearing was held on July 29, 2010, at which
Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (Tr. 40-85).
By written decision dated November 16, 2010, the ALJ found that during the relevant
The Court notes Plaintiff also filed an application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) pursuant to Title II of
the Social Security Act; however it does not appear that Plaintiff pursued this application. (Tr. 187).
Furthermore, neither party addressed the ALJ’s failure to note this DIB application.
time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr.
14). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: a personality
disorder, and a mood disorder. However, after reviewing all of the evidence presented, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of any
impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No.
4. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
perform work at all exertional limitations, but has the following nonexertional
limitations: the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks. The claimant can respond appropriately to
supervisors and usual work situations, but can have occasional contact with coworkers and no contact with the general public. The claimant can perform low
stress work (defined as occasional decision-making and occasional changes in
work place settings).
(Tr. 15). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a hospital cleaner, a dishwasher, and a machine tender. (Tr. 19).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
after reviewing additional medical evidence, denied that request on June 30, 2011. (Tr. 1-4).
Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant
to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 4). Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now
ready for decision. (Docs. 5,6).
The Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of facts and arguments
are presented in the parties’ briefs, and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
This 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 Cir. 2000).
It is 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),
1382(3)(c). A Plaintiff must show that her disability, not simply her impairment, has lasted for
at least twelve consecutive months.
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 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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in concluding that the Plaintiff was not disabled
because (1) the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of the claimant’s impairments in combination;
and (2) the ALJ erred in finding that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity to
perform work at all exertional levels. Defendant argues substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
Combination of Impairments:
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of the claimant’s impairments
The ALJ stated that in determining Plaintiff’s RFC, he considered “all of the claimant’s
impairments, including impairments that are not severe.” (Tr. 13). The ALJ further found that
the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically
equaled one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 14). Such language demonstrates the ALJ considered
the combined effect of Plaintiff’s impairments. Hajek v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 89, 92 (8th Cir. 1994).
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). It is assessed using all relevant evidence in the record. Id. This includes medical
records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant’s own descriptions of
her limitations. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); Eichelberger v.
Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). 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). “[T]he ALJ is [also] required to set forth specifically a claimant’s
limitations and to determine how those limitations affect his RFC.” Id.
The Court finds, based upon the well-stated reasons outlined in the Defendant’s brief,
that Plaintiff’s argument is without merit, and there was sufficient evidence for the ALJ to make
an informed decision. Therefore, the Court finds there is substantial evidence of record to
support the ALJ’s RFC findings.
Subjective Complaints and Credibility Analysis:
The ALJ was required to consider all the evidence relating to Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints including evidence presented by third parties that relates to: (1) Plaintiff’s daily
activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of her pain; (3) precipitating and aggravating
factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of her medication; and (5) functional
restrictions. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). While an ALJ may not
discount a claimant’s subjective complaints solely because the medical evidence fails to support
them, an ALJ may discount those complaints where inconsistencies appear in the record as a
whole. Id. As the Eighth Circuit has observed, “Our touchstone is that [a claimant’s] credibility
is primarily a matter for the ALJ to decide.” Edwards, 314 F.3d at 966.
After reviewing the administrative record, and the Defendant’s well-stated reasons set
forth in his brief, it is clear that the ALJ properly considered and evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, including the Polaski factors, and the Court finds there is substantial evidence to
support the ALJ’s credibility findings.
Hypothetical Question to the Vocational Expert:
After thoroughly reviewing the hearing transcript along with the entire evidence of
record, the Court finds that the hypothetical the ALJ posed to the vocational expert fully set forth
the impairments which the ALJ accepted as true and which were supported by the record as a
whole. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the Court finds that the
vocational expert's opinion constitutes substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's conclusion that
Plaintiff's impairments did not preclude her from performing work as a hospital cleaner, a
dishwasher, and a machine tender.
Pickney v. Chater, 96 F.3d 294, 296 (8th Cir.
1996)(testimony from vocational expert based on properly phrased hypothetical question
constitutes substantial evidence).
Accordingly, having carefully reviewed the record, the undersigned finds substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's decision denying the Plaintiff benefits, and thus the decision
should be affirmed. The undersigned further finds that the Plaintiff’s Complaint should be
dismissed with prejudice.
DATED this 26th day of July, 2012.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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