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Copeland v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

February 20, 2015

REGINA COPELAND, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies and the matter is now ripe for judicial review. This Court has carefully reviewed the record before it, and finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The decision of the Commission is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II on August 30, 2011. Plaintiff was born in 1978 and claims she became disabled beginning on December 15, 2009. Plaintiff's disability report states she has an alleged disability due to left knee problems/pain, hip pain, back pain, leg pain, numbness in the left leg, inability to sit or stand for "long periods, " and migraines.

The claim was initially denied on November 14, 2011. Plaintiff filed a request for an Administrative Law Judge hearing, and a hearing was held on November 14, 2012. On March 1, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Act. Plaintiff then filed a request for Review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council, which was denied.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments that included degenerative joint disease of the knee, migraines and recurrent bronchitis. However, the ALJ held that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except the claimant must have a sit/stand option with the ability to change positions frequently, but not more often than once every thirty minutes. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and can occasionally kneel and crouch. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can never crawl. The claimant is limited to pushing and pulling with the left leg frequently at a maximum of ten pounds. The claimant must avoid moderate exposure to noise, and concentrated exposure to extreme cold, wetness and vibrations. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments would not preclude her from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a mail clerk and office helper.

Based on the ALJ's findings, the ALJ found that the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. On January 23, 2014, SSA's Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.

Plaintiff's current appeal argues the following alleged errors: the ALJ failed to provide an appropriate narrative link between the evidence of record and his RFC finding; the ALJ failed to appropriately weigh the identifiable and supported opinion of Dr. Singhal; and the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record resulting in an RFC finding that did not account for Copeland's mental limitation and was thus not supported by substantial evidence.

DISCUSSION

The Court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is to determine whether the "findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1042-43 (8th Cir. 2007), citing, Haggard v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir.1999). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "The fact that some evidence may support a conclusion opposite from that reached by the Commissioner does not alone permit our reversal of the Commissioner's decision." Id., citing, Kelley v. Barnhart, 372 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2004); and Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007). If the record contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse the decision simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome. Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). In other words, the Court cannot reverse simply because it would have decided the case differently. Id., citing, Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993). Further, the Court defers to the ALJ's determinations of the credibility of witness testimony, as long as the ALJ's determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial evidence. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).

In order to qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act and the accompanying regulations, Plaintiff must establish she is disabled. Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010); citing, Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.2009). "Disability is defined as the 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.'" Id., quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To determine disability, the ALJ follows an established five-step process that considers whether: (1) the claimant was employed; (2) she was severely impaired; (3) her impairment was, or was comparable to, a listed impairment; (4) she could perform past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether she could perform any other kind of work. Id., citing, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).

In this case, the ALJ determined, among other things, Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work as a waitress, fast food worker and psychiatric aide. However, the ALJ concluded there was other work she could perform, giving the example of mail clerk or office helper as representative occupations of light unskilled work. Therefore, the ALJ determined she was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits.

A. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's RFC Assessment.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ's Decision failed to provide a link between the more restrictive RFC and the record as a whole. Further, the Plaintiff argues the ALJ "discounted the medical information provided by Copeland in support of her RFC and found that she had failed to meet her burden." The ALJ's Decision states "the above residual functional capacity assessment is supported by the objective medical evidence contained in the record. The credibility of the claimant's allegations is weakened by the inconsistencies between her allegations, her statement regarding daily activities, and the medical evidence. Although the inconsistent information provided by the claimant may not be the ...


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