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Williams v. Colvin

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

July 26, 2016

EVERLENE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES 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 Everline Williams’ application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416, 423 et seq. Williams alleged disability due to back pain, right rotator cuff injury, arthritis, joint pain, nerve damage, swelling of hands, depression, and sciatica[1]. (Tr. 164.) The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 8.] The Court has reviewed the parties’ briefs and the entire administrative record, including the hearing transcripts and the medical evidence. The Court heard oral argument in this matter on July 26, 2016. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner’s final decision.

         I. Background

         In May 2013, Williams applied for disability insurance and SSI, alleging disability since August 31, 2010. (Tr. 137-44.) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Williams’s claim and she filed a timely request for hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 92-93.) The SSA granted Williams’s request for review and an administrative hearing was held on April 18, 2014. (Tr. 28-53.) Williams, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 31-52.) On June 10, 2014, the ALJ found that Williams was not disabled as defined in the Society Security Act. (Tr. 12-22.) Williams requested a review of the ALJ’s decision from the Appeals Council. (Tr. 8.) On May 5, 2015, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Williams’ request for review. (Tr. 1-4.) The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         Williams filed this appeal on June 16, 2015. [Doc 1.] The Commissioner filed an Answer and the certified Administrative Transcript on August 24, 2015. [Docs. 11, 12.] Williams filed a Brief in Support of the Complaint on September 23, 2015. [Doc. 13.] The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on October 22, 2015. [Doc. 14.]

         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. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A).

         The SSA 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), 416.920(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(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 and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(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), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant’s impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         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), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC 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), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). 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). The court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner’s finding, the Commissioner’s decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). 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. ...


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