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Winslett v. Saul

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

July 15, 2019

CHRISTOPHER L. WINSLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Christopher L. Winslett's appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 9] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the transcript and medical evidence. Based on the following, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Issues for Review

          Winslett, proceeding pro se, presents several issues for review[2]. First, Winslett asserts that the Missouri Department of Family Services and a Vocational Rehabilitation expert confirm that he is unable to work. Second, he asserts that the vocational expert at his administrative hearing testified that he would be unable to work. Third, he contends that information was improperly expunged from the administrative record. Finally, he states that there was a false statement regarding when he stopped working in the final decision.

         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 standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision 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).

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003). “In this substantial-evidence determination, the entire administrative record is considered but the evidence is not reweighed.” Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d. 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Discussion

         A. Contents of the Administrative Record

         Winslett directs the Court to two issues regarding the information contained in the administrative record. First, he states that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) improperly expunged his medical records from the administrative record. [Docs. 18, 19] In her written opinion, the ALJ noted that she expunged 5 pages of records from the administrative record, because the information contained in those pages was related to another individual. (Tr. 21) The Commissioner contends that these records were unrelated to Winslett and were properly removed from the record. Winslett has not provided any support for his claim that the records removed by the ALJ were his medical records. It is not uncommon for the Social Security Administration to correct the inadvertent disclosure of another person's records in a social security action and the agency should do so as soon as it is discovered. See e.g. McKinney v. Colvin, No. CIV-12-1120 LAM, 2013 WL 12328838 at *1, n. 1 (D. New Mexico Dec. 12, 2013) (transcript removed from court docket because it referred to the personal and private information of an individual other than Plaintiff). The removal of records from a claimant's file that do not pertain to the claimant does not constitute grounds for reversal on appeal.

         Next, Winslett submits additional medical records with his filings stating that these medical records were “expunged to deny my claim also.” [Doc. 19 at 2-89] Winslett asserts that he is resubmitting all records and documents which support the approval of his claim to federal court. The Commissioner contends that these records are already included in the administrative transcript filed by the Commissioner. The Court has reviewed the records submitted by Winslett and all of them were included in the administrative transcript submitted by the Commissioner. [Doc. 12] Therefore, the documents submitted by Winslett have been considered by the Court and are a part of the official administrative record.

         B. ALJ's Disability Determination

         The Social Security Administration (“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). The ALJ determined that Winslett met the insured requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since September 27, 2014, ...


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