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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 2, 2014

PATRICIA WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

NANNETTE A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Patricia Wilson's ("Wilson") application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. Wilson alleged disability due to bipolar disorder. (Tr. 106.) This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) for a report and recommendation. [Doc. 5.] Based on the foregoing, the undersigned recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.

I. Background

On August 8, 2007, Wilson completed her application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 83-90.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Wilson' claim and she filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 37-46.) The SSA granted Wilson's request and a hearing took place on July 21, 2009. (Tr. 14-36, 47-48.) Wilson testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. On August 21, 2009, the ALJ issued a written decision upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 5-13.) Wilson requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 4.) On July 17, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Wilson' request for review. (Tr. 1-3.) Wilson appealed to the United States District Court Eastern District of Missouri. Wilson v. Astrue , 4:10-CV-1546 SNLJ (E.D. Mo. Oct. 4, 2011). On October 4, 2011, the District Court reversed and remanded the decision of the ALJ because the ALJ erroneously found that Wilson's mental impairment was not a severe impairment. (Tr. 474-499.)

Upon remand, a different ALJ held a supplemental hearing on June 11, 2012. (Tr. 443-461.) Wilson and vocational expert ("VE") Delores Gonzalez testified at the hearing. Wilson was represented by counsel. On July 10, 2012, the ALJ issued another decision upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 428-438.) Wilson filed written exceptions to the ALJ's decision, requesting that the Appeals Council assume jurisdiction. (Tr. 418-419.) The ALJ declined to assume jurisdiction. (Tr. 413-416.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner after remand. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(b)(2). Wilson filed this appeal on August 8, 2013. [Doc. 1.] Wilson filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint. [Doc. 17.] The Commissioner filed an Answer and Brief in Support of the Answer. [Docs. 10, 23.]

II. Standard of Review

The Social Security Act defines disability as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

The Social Security Administration uses a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix to the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

Fourth, the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the residual functional capacity to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel , 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfies all of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

This Court reviews decisions of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala , 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). Therefore, even if this Court finds that there is a preponderance of evidence against the weight of the ALJ's decision, the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler , 733 F.2d 65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984). An administrative decision is not subject to reversal simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion. Gwathney v. Chater , 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997).

To determine whether the ALJ's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court is required to review the administrative record as a whole to consider:

(1) The findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the claimant;
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant's treating physician;
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the claimant's physical activity and impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant's physical impairment;
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon prior hypothetical questions which fairly set forth the claimant's physical impairment; and
(7) The testimony of consulting physicians.

Brand v. Sec'y of Dept. of Health, Educ. & Welfare , 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir. 1980).

It must be noted that because Wilson's last date insured is December 31, 2004, Wilson has the burden to show that she had a disabling impairment before her insured status expired. See Barnett v. Shalala , 996 F.2d 1221 (8th Cir. 1993) ( citing Basinger v. Heckler , 725 F.2d 1166, 1168 (8th Cir. 1984)). "When an individual is no longer insured for Title II disability purposes, [the Court] will only consider her medical condition as of the date she was last insured." Davidson v. Astrue , 501 F.3d 987, 989 (8th Cir. 2007) "Evidence from outside the insured period can be used in helping to elucidate a medical condition during the time for which benefits may be rewarded." Cox v. Barnhart , 471 F.3d 902, 907 (8th Cir. 2006).

III. ALJ Decision

First the ALJ determined that Wilson last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2004 and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of May 27, 2003 through her date last insured of December 31, 2004. (Tr. 430.) Second, she found that Wilson had the severe impairments of migraine cephalgia, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 431.) Third, the ALJ determined that Wilson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 431.) She also found that Wilson had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to occasionally lift and carry up to 50 pounds, stand or walk and sit six hours out of an eight-hour work day. (Tr. 432.) She determined that Wilson must avoid climbing ropes, ladders, scaffolds, and avoid hazards or heights. (Tr. 432.) The ALJ also determined that Wilson was able to understand, remember, and carry out at least simple instructions. (Tr. 432.) Fourth, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work, but there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Wilson could have performed. (Tr. 436.) Finally, the ALJ concluded that Wilson was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from May 27, 2003, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2004, the date last insured. (Tr. 437.)

IV. Administrative Record[1]

The following evidence was contained in the administrative record before the ALJ. Wilson amended her alleged onset date to May 27, 2003 and requested that the ALJ find a closed period of disability from May 27, 2013 ...


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