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Gillaspie v. Colvin

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

September 4, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief Judge.


Plaintiff Sharon Gillaspie filed a complaint appealing from an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision denying disability benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant[1] denies plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 9). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Docket 11). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 16). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 17) is denied.


The parties' JSMF (Docket 16) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order. On June 16, 2011, Ms. Gillaspie applied for Social Security disability and supplemental security income benefits alleging a disability date of May 15, 2011. Id . ¶ 1. An evidentiary hearing was held on November 15, 2011, before an ALJ. Id . On December 12, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Gillaspie was not disabled and denying benefits. Id .; see also Administrative Record at pp. 10-23.[2] Ms. Gillaspie sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied the request. (Docket 16 ¶ 1). The ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Ms. Gillaspie timely filed a complaint requesting judicial review. (Docket 1).

The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision that Ms. Gillaspie was not "under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, from May 15, 2011, through [December 12, 2012]" is supported by the substantial evidence in 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)).


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)).


The Social Security Administration established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a). 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 ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation required by the Social Security Administration regulations. (AR at pp. 12-23). During that evaluation process the ALJ concluded Ms. Gillaspie had a "residual functional capacity ["RFC"] to perform less than the full range of sedentary work...." Id. at p. 14. Based on the record, the ALJ found "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Ms. Gillaspie] can perform...." and determined Ms. Gillaspie was not disabled. Id. at p. 22-23. Ms. Gillaspie challenges the ALJ's decision on only one ground: Did the ALJ properly determine Ms. Gillaspie's credibility? (Docket 17 at p. 1). DID THE ALJ PROPERLY DETERMINE MS. GILLASPIE'S CREDIBILITY?

At step two of the evaluation process the ALJ found Ms. Gillaspie had the following severe impairments: "migraine headaches; history of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, status post-surgery; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; fibromyalgia;[3] and obesity...." (AR at p. 12). In addition to these severe impairments, the ALJ found Ms. Gillaspie had non-severe impairments of anxiety, palpitations and hyperlipidemia. Id. at p. 13. The ALJ found all three conditions were "well-controlled with medication, " or "effectively controlled through medication" and that these conditions "no more than minimally affect[ed] [Ms. Gillapsie's] ability to perform basic... activities...." Id.

In judging Ms. Gillaspie's credibility, the ALJ found:

After careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the ...

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