United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
CHERYL L. GIMBEL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief Judge.
Plaintiff Cheryl Gimbel filed a complaint appealing from an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision denying disability benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 12). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Docket 14). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 20). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 22) is denied, and the defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 25) is granted.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The parties' JSMF (Docket 20) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order.
On March 14, 2006, plaintiff Cheryl Gimbel filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits alleging disability beginning March 7, 2004. (Docket 20 at p. 1). The claims were initially denied on August 28, 2006, and upon reconsideration on October 17, 2006. Id . Thereafter, Ms. Gimbel filed a request for a hearing and an evidentiary hearing was held on March 11, 2008. Id . On March 28, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Gimbel was not disabled and denying benefits. (Administrative Record at pp. 74-81).
Ms. Gimbel sought review from the Appeals Council. (Docket 20 at p. 2). The Appeals Council granted Ms. Gimbel's request for review and remanded the case for a new hearing. (AR at p. 84). Another evidentiary hearing was held on October 19, 2010. (Docket 20 at p. 2). On March 10, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Gimbel was not disabled and denying benefits. (AR at pp. 14-23). Ms. Gimbel sought review from the Appeals Council. Id. at pp. 1-3. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Gimbel's review request. Id . The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 CFR § 422.210(a). It is from this decision which Ms. Gimbel timely appeals.
The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of March 10, 2011, (the "2011 ALJ decision") that Ms. Gimbel was not "under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act... from March 7, 2004, through [March 10, 2011]" is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. (AR at p. 23); see also Howard v. Massanari , 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir. 2001) ("By statute, the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.") (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Commissioner's findings must be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Choate v. Barnhart , 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006); Howard , 255 F.3d at 580. The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if an error of law was committed. Smith v. Sullivan , 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Cox v. Barnhart , 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
The review of a decision to deny disability benefits is "more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision... [the court must also] take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision." Reed v. Barnhart , 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Haley v. Massanari , 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001)).
It is not the role of the court to re-weigh the evidence and, even if this court would decide the case differently, it cannot reverse the Commissioner's decision if that decision is supported by good reason and is based on substantial evidence. Guilliams v. Barnhart , 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005). A reviewing court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision "merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.'" Reed , 399 F.3d at 920 (quoting Shannon v. Chater , 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir. 1995)).
"Disability" is defined as the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment [or combination of impairments] which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a ...