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New v. Colvin

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

September 30, 2014

LORRAINE JO NEW, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER

JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Lorraine New 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 8). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Docket 10). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 12). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 15) is denied, and the defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 26) is granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The parties' JSMF (Docket 12) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order.

On March 29, 2010, Ms. New filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging a disability onset date of March 17, 2008. Id. at ¶ 1. Ms. New filed a request for a hearing and an evidentiary hearing was held on February 21, 2012. Id. at ¶ 2. On June 15, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. New was not disabled and denying benefits. Id . Ms. New sought review by the Appeals Council. Id . The Appeals Council denied Ms. New's review request. Id . The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Id .; see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 CFR § 422.210(a). It is from this decision which Ms. New timely appeals.

The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of June 15, 2012, that Ms. New was not "under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act from March 17, 2008, through [June 15, 2012]" is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. (Administrative Record[1] at 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 decision of the Commissioner 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 continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

The Social Security Administration established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)(4). If the ALJ determines a claimant is not disabled at any step of the process, the evaluation does not proceed to the next step as the claimant is not disabled. Id . The five-step sequential evaluation process is:

(1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a "substantial gainful activity"; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment-one that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work experience); (4) whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform... past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform.

Baker v. Apfel , 159 F.3d 1140, 1143-44 (8th Cir. 1998). The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation required by the Social Security Administration regulations. (AR at pp. 10-17). At step four of the evaluation, the ALJ found Ms. New "could perform her past relevant work as a cashier-gambling as previously performed and as generally performed in the national economy" and was, therefore, not disabled. Id. at p. 17.

PLAINTIFF'S ISSUES ON APPEAL

Plaintiff's brief in support of her motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner ...


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