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Sitting Crow v. Colvin

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

March 20, 2014

LUCY SITTING CROW, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER

JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Lucy Sitting Crow 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 6). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Docket 8). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 9). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 12) is denied.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The parties' JSMF (Docket 9) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order.

On August 13, 2008, plaintiff Lucy Sitting Crow filed an application for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning September 9, 2006. (Docket 9 at ¶ 2). A hearing was held on March 18, 2010, and an unfavorable decision was issued on April 9, 2010. Id . The Appeals Council denied Ms. Sitting Crow's request for review and the decision of the ALJ became final. (Administrative Record at pp. 59-61).[1] Ms. Sitting Crow did not appeal this ALJ decision. (Docket 9 at ¶ 2).

On August 2, 2010, Ms. Sitting Crow filed another application for Social Security disability benefits, alleging disability since April 10, 2010. Id. at ¶ 1. The claim was denied initially on September 21, 2010, and upon reconsideration on December 22, 2010. (AR at p. 8). Thereafter, Ms. Sitting Crow filed a request for a hearing and an evidentiary hearing was held on May 16, 2012. Id . On June 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Sitting Crow was not disabled and denying benefits. Id. at pp. 5-21. Ms. Sitting Crow subsequently sought review from the Appeals Council. Id. at pp. 1-3. The Appeals Council denied Ms. Sitting Crow's review request. Id . The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. (Docket 9 at ¶ 3). It is from this decision which Ms. Sitting Crow timely appeals.

This issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of June 4, 2012, (the "2012 ALJ decision") that Ms. Sitting Crow was not "under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act... from April 10, 2010, through [December 31, 2010]" is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR, p. 17); 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)).

DISCUSSION

"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 ...


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