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Van Cleave v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

February 20, 2014

TONI ANN VAN CLEAVE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER

KAREN E. SCHREIER, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Toni Ann Van Cleave, seeks review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income.[1] The Commissioner opposes the motion and requests that the court affirm the decision. The court affirms.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In June of 2009, Van Cleave applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. AR 119-31.[2] The Social Security Administration denied Van Cleave's application. AR 62-64. Van Cleave requested reconsideration, which was subsequently denied. AR 67-71. Van Cleave next requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 72-73. After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Van Cleave was not entitled to benefits. AR 10-29. The Appeals Council denied Van Cleave's request to review the ALJ's decision. AR 1-3. Subsequently, Van Cleave requested that this court review the Commissioner's unfavorable decision. Docket 1.

FACTS

Van Cleave was born on December 23, 1970. Van Cleave completed high school, but states that she has a learning disability related to her reading comprehension.[3] AR 37. Van Cleave has four children and has been married to her husband since 1999. AR 38-39.

Van Cleave has an extensive but sporadic work history, primarily consisting of service industry positions such as waitress, cook, and cashier. AR 184-202. Most recently, she held a telemarketing position at Stream International, Inc. In 2007, Van Cleave received total wages of $21, 523.21 from Stream, and from January to September 2008 she made $18, 556.94. AR 151. She was terminated from Stream on September 24, 2008, and has not worked since then. AR 15. Currently, Van Cleave receives occasional child support payments for her two older children and food stamps, and she relies on her husband's social security retirement income. AR 239.

Van Cleave has a history of fibromyalgia[4] and fatigue, and has taken various pain medications to relieve her symptoms. AR 47. Her primary care provider is Karen Pearson, a certified physician assistant. Van Cleave also alleges that she has back pain and a tailbone injury from a fall in 1991. AR 48, 267. X-rays of Van Cleave's spine show mild degenerative joint disease. AR 270, 271. Additionally, Van Cleave reports struggling with depression, see AR 276, 285, and memory issues. AR 207-08. Van Cleave previously applied for social security disability benefits in 1995, 1997, and 2003. AR 46.

ALJ DECISION

After a telephonic hearing in which Van Cleave was represented by counsel, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The ALJ applied the five-step process for determining disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. In doing so, the ALJ found that Van Cleave had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 24, 2008. The ALJ found that Van Cleave's fibromyalgia was severe within the meaning of the regulations, but that Van Cleave's medically determinable impairments of depression and back and neck pain were nonsevere. AR 15-17. After determining that Van Cleave's fibromyalgia did not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ concluded that Van Cleave had the residual function capacity (RFC) to perform light work with some limitations. AR 17. In making the RFC determination, the ALJ found that Van Cleave's statements regarding the limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible. AR 18-22. Based on her RFC, the ALJ determined Van Cleave could perform her past relevant work, or alternatively that she could perform other jobs existing in the national economy. AR 22-24. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Van Cleave was not disabled. AR 24.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court must uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...."); Teague v. Astrue , 638 F.3d 611, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.'" Pate-Fires v. Astrue , 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Maresh v. Barnhart , 438 F.3d 897, 898 (8th Cir. 2006)). The court considers evidence that both supports and detracts from the ALJ's decision. Moore v. Astrue , 623 F.3d 599, 605 (8th Cir. 2010). If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, the court may not reverse it merely because substantial evidence also exists in the record that would support a contrary position or because the court would have determined the case differently. Krogmeier v. Barnhart , 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002) (citing Woolf v. Shalala , 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993)).

In determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, the court reviews the entire administrative record and considers six factors: (1) the ALJ's credibility determinations; (2) the claimant's vocational factors; (3) medical evidence from treating and consulting physicians; (4) the claimant's subjective complaints relating to activities and impairments; (5) any third-party corroboration of claimant's impairments; and (6) a vocational expert's testimony based on proper hypothetical questions setting forth the claimant's impairment(s). Stewart v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 957 F.2d 581, 585-86 (8th Cir. 1992) (citing Cruse v. Bowen , 867 F.2d 1183, 1184-85 (8th Cir. 1989)).

The court also reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if an error of law has been committed, which may be a procedural error, the use of an erroneous legal standard, or an incorrect application of the law. Collins v. Astrue , 648 F.3d 869, 871 (8th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). Issues of law are reviewed de novo with deference accorded to the Commissioner's ...


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