Duncan v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on March 12, 2014. (lw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
Civil No. 6:13-cv-06027
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Darrell Duncan (“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 application 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. 9.1
Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final
judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB and SSI on October 4, 2010. (Tr. 19, 101113). Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to coronary artery disease, stints in his heart, and
depression. (Tr. 45, 136). Plaintiff alleged an onset date of January 1, 2008. (Tr. 19, 101, 108).
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.”
These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 19). Thereafter,
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications and this hearing request was granted.
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on March 14, 2012. (Tr. 32-51). Plaintiff was
present and was represented by counsel, Michael Angel, at this hearing. Id. At the time of this
hearing, Plaintiff was forty (40) years old, which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1563(c), and had a high school education. (Tr. 36).
On April 12, 2012, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application
for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 19-27). In this decision, the ALJ determined Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through March 31, 2013. (Tr. 21, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since January 1, 2008. (Tr. 21,
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of coronary artery disease with
status post multiple stenting and hypertension. (Tr. 21, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined
Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of
Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 22, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 22-25). First, the ALJ indicated he 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 full range of sedentary work (Tr. 22, Finding 5).
The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 25, Finding 6). The
ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his PRW as a heavy equipment operator, sandblaster, pest
control worker, and railroad section hand. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was other
work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 26,
Finding 10). The ALJ then used Medical-Vocational Guidelines Rule 201.28 to reach a conclusion
of “not disabled,” based on Plaintiff’s age, education, vocational background, and residual functional
capacity. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2, § 201.28. (Tr. 26). The ALJ then determined
Plaintiff had not been under a “disability,” as defined by the Act, at any time through the date of his
decision. (Tr. 26, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s unfavorable decision.
(Tr. 14). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable
decision. (Tr. 7-10). On March 21, 2013, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties
consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on April 18, 2013. ECF No. 9. Both Parties have filed
appeal briefs. ECF Nos. 13, 15. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
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)
(2006); 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. 13, Pg. 4-10. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the ALJ
erred: (1) in failing to fully develop the record, (2) in failing to prepare a Psychiatric Review
Technique analysis, and (3) in the credibility determination of Plaintiff. Id. In response, the
Defendant argues the ALJ did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 15. Because this Court finds
the ALJ erred in failing to prepare a Psychiatric Review Technique analysis, this Court will only
address this issue.
Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in failing to conduct a Psychiatric Review Technique analysis.
ECF No. 13, Pgs. 7-8. A Psychiatric Review Technique analysis is required to be conducted and
documented at each level of the review process, including the ALJ level. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920a(a)-(e). This involves a determination of whether there is a mental impairment followed
by a rating of the degree of functional limitation resulting from the mental impairment. This must
be conducted at all levels of the application process, beginning with the initial and reconsideration
levels. Id. At these levels, the Psychiatric Review Technique must be documented by completion
of a standard form. The Psychiatric Review Technique must also be conducted and documented at
the ALJ and Appeals Council levels; however, at these levels, it is permissible for the analysis to be
included within the written decision such that the use of a written form is not required. Id.
In this matter, Plaintiff put forth evidence of a mental impairment claim of depression. In
the claim process, Plaintiff stated he suffered from depression. In a November 12, 2010 Function
Report, Plaintiff stated he was depressed, did not go out, and doubts himself, his looks, and his self
worth. (Tr. 196, 199). Additionally, during the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified he is
depressed which caused him to stay down all the time and he does not feel like doing anything
because he feels unwanted. (Tr. 44-45). Plaintiff also stated he often cries and has trouble sleeping.
Furthermore, the medical evidence indicates Plaintiff suffers depression. On December 15,
2010, Dr. R. Paul Tucker performed a consultative examination on Plaintiff. (Tr. 257-263). Dr.
Tucker indicated Plaintiff was experiencing depression. (Tr. 258, 262). Dr. Jim Hahn completed
a Request for Medical Advice on January 16, 2011. (T. 273). The ALJ did not prepare or utilize a
Psychiatric Review Technique. This failure was error. This matter is remanded for further review
because no Psychiatric Review Technique analysis was conducted.
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 12th day of March 2014.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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