Slane v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Erin L. Setser on November 13, 2013. (adw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JOSEPH ALLAN SLANE
CIVIL NO. 12-5225
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1 Commissioner
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Joseph Allan Slane, 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 his claims for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
(DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under the provisions of Titles II and 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).
Plaintiff protectively filed his current applications for DIB and SSI on July 15, 2009,
alleging an inability to work since July 10, 2009, due to scoliosis with rods. (Tr. 110, 143). An
Carolyn W. Colvin, has been appointed to serve as acting Commissioner of Social Security, and is substituted as
Defendant, pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
administrative hearing was held on July 7, 2010, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and
testified. (Tr. 40-59).
By written decision dated September 30, 2010, the ALJ found that during the relevant
time period, Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments that were severe. (Tr.
12). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: scoliosis
(including back pain) and personality disorders. 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. 21). The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except
he can only work where interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed;
complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, with few variables and little
judgment required; where supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete;
occasionally lift or carry 10 pounds and frequently lift or carry less than 10
pounds; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and walk for two hours
in an eight-hour workday; and occasionally climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop,
(Tr. 14). With the help of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform work
as a machine tender, an office clerk, and an inspector. (Tr. 17).
Plaintiff then requested a review of the hearing decision by the Appeals Council, which
denied that request on August 16, 2012. (Tr. 1-6). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action.
(Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 5).
Both parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready for decision. (Docs. 8,9).
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 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 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 his 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 age, education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 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 his residual functional capacity. See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138,
1141-42 (8th Cir. 1982); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
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.” Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
591 (8th Cir. 2004); Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005). 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).
In the present case, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform sedentary work
with limitations. In determining this RFC, the ALJ relied heavily on the January 12, 2010, RFC
assessment completed by Dr. Jim Takach, a non-examining medical consultant. (Tr. 257-264).
A review of this RFC assessment revealed that Dr. Takach opined that Plaintiff should not be
required to perform rapid, repetitive flexion and extension of his wrists bilaterally. (Tr. 258).
The ALJ failed to discuss this restriction when determining Plaintiff’s RFC. The Court would
note that the jobs Plaintiff was determined to be able to perform - machine tender, an office
clerk, and an inspector - all require frequent to constant handling and fingering. See DICOT §§§
673.685-042, 713.687-026, 726.684-050 at www.westlaw.com. Accordingly, the Court believes
remand is necessary for the ALJ to more fully and fairly develop the record regarding Plaintiff’s
alleged upper extremity limitations.
On remand, the ALJ is directed to address Plaintiff upper extremity limitations, and the
medical evidence used to support any limitations regarding Plaintiff’s upper extremities. The
ALJ should then re-evaluate Plaintiff's RFC and specifically list in a hypothetical to a vocational
expert any limitations that are indicated in the RFC assessments and supported by the evidence.
Accordingly, the Court concludes that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, and therefore, the denial of benefits to the Plaintiff should be reversed and this matter
should be remanded to the Commissioner for further consideration pursuant to sentence four of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
DATED this 13th day of November, 2013.
/s/ Erin L. Setser
HON. ERIN L. SETSER
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?