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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

September 21, 2015

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


JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief Judge.


Plaintiff Aileen Elizabeth Davis[1] filed a complaint appealing from a decision of an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denying her Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 5). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Dockets 7 & 9). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 10). Plaintiff filed a motion for an order reversing the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner ("Commissioner").[2] (Docket 12). Defendant filed motion for an order affirming the decision of the Commissioner. (Docket 14). For the reasons stated below, Ms. Davis' motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner is denied and defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner is granted.


The parties' JSMF (Docket 10) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order. Ms. Davis received an initial SSI allowance on June 4, 1997, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Id. at ¶¶ 1, 2. Ms. Davis' stopped receiving SSI needs-based benefits in March of 2010 because portions of her husband's income were deemed attributable to her. Id. at ¶ 2. On October 12, 2010, Ms. Davis filed a new SSI application alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 1997, with a protective filing date of October 12, 2010. Id. at ¶ 3. Ms. Davis' application was denied initially on January 18, 2011, and on reconsideration on March 18, 2011. Id . Ms. Davis timely filed a request for a hearing on October 19, 2011, and a hearing was held before an ALJ on November 15, 2012. Id . On December 11, 2012, the ALJ entered a decision finding Ms. Davis was not disabled and denied SSI benefits. Id .; see also Administrative Record, pp. 21-29.[3] Ms. Davis subsequently sought review from the Appeals Council and on January 7, 2014, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. (AR at pp. 1-4). Ms. Davis then filed a complaint requesting judicial review. (Docket 1). The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner. It is from this decision that Ms. Davis appeals.

The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of December 11, 2012, is supported by the substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 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) (citation and internal 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 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 ...

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