Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Butters v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

August 16, 2013

FRANCES ELIZABETH BUTTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

LINDA R. READE, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The matter before the court is Plaintiff Frances Elizabeth Butters's Complaint (docket no. 3) for judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's ("Commissioner") decision to deny her application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. Butters asks the court to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and order the Commissioner to provide her SSI benefits. Butters requests that the court remand this matter solely for the purpose of calculating and paying benefits.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 24, 2009, Butters applied for SSI benefits. In her application, Butters alleged an inability to work since May 20, 2009, due to dilated cardiomyopathy and obesity.[1] In the Disability Report (Form SSA-3368), Butters also claimed she suffers from congestive heart failure, depression, anxiety and kidney problems. Record at 190. Butters's application was initially denied on August 25, 2009. Id. at 77. On January 19, 2010, her application was denied on reconsideration. Id. at 78. Butters filed a written request for an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 26, 2010. Id. at 105. On June 2, 2011, Butters appeared via video conference with her attorney before ALJ John E. Sandbothe for an administrative hearing. Id. at 34-56. Butters and vocational expert Maryanne Jacobs testified at the hearing. Id. On August 19, 2011, the ALJ denied Butters's claim. Id. at 14-26. The ALJ determined that Butters had not suffered from a disability since June 24, 2009, and was not entitled to SSI benefits because she was functionally capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. Butters appealed the ALJ's decision. Id. at 12. On September 1, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Butters's request for review. Id. at 1-3. Consequently, the ALJ's August 19, 2011, decision was adopted as the Commissioner's final decision.

On October 9, 2012, Butters filed the Complaint. The Commissioner filed an Answer on December 14, 2012. Answer (docket no. 6). On January 11, 2013, Butters filed a brief arguing that there is no substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's finding that she is not disabled and that she is functionally capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Brief in Support of Complaint (docket no. 10). On March 12, 2013, the Commissioner filed a responsive brief arguing that the ALJ's decision was correct and asking the court to affirm the ALJ's decision. Brief Resisting Complaint (docket no. 11). On March 19, 2013, Butters filed a reply brief. Reply Brief (docket no. 12).

III. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), the Commissioner's final determination after an administrative hearing not to award SSI benefits is subject to judicial review to the same extent as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the court with the power to "enter... a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner... with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "The findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive..." Id.

The court will "affirm the Commissioner's decision if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is defined as "less than a preponderance but... enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.'" Id. (quoting Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)); see also Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1063 (8th Cir. 2012) ("Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a decision but is less than a preponderance.").

In determining whether the ALJ's decision meets this standard, the court considers "all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but [it does] not re-weigh the evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005). The court "consider[s] the evidence that both supports and detracts from the ALJ's decision." Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1091 (8th Cir. 2012); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007) (A court's review of an ALJ's decision "extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; [the court must] also consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision."). The Eighth Circuit explained, "This standard is something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal." Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Furthermore, a court "will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available zone of choice" Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528 F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "An ALJ's decision is not outside that zone of choice simply because [a court] might have reached a different conclusion had [the court] been the initial finder of fact." Id. Therefore, "even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the [Commissioner's] decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); see also Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010) ("If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, [the court] will not reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence would have also supported a contrary outcome, or because [the court] would have decided differently."); Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir. 2009) ("If there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's conclusion, we may not reverse even though there may also be substantial evidence to support the opposite conclusion.'" (quoting Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005))).

IV. FACTS

A. Butters's Educational and Employment Background

Butters was born in 1969. Record at 77. She graduated from high school and has completed one year of college. Id. at 199. In the past, Butters worked as an assistant manager at a retail store and as a head cook. Id. at 271. However, a detailed earnings report indicates that Butters has not worked since 2003. Id. at 183. Her total earnings between 1995 and 2003 ranged from $3, 382.39 in 1995 to $14, 720.95 in 1999, and fell to $8, 930.46 by 2003. See id.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Butters's testimony

At the administrative hearing, Butters's attorney inquired about Butters's work history. As a head cook, Butters "had to be on [her] feet all day, running back and forth." Id. at 38-39. She testified that she had to lift up to fifty pounds in both of her past jobs. Id. at 39.

Butters's attorney also asked Butters to discuss her difficulties with her physical health problems:

Q: How much do you think that you could lift at one time if you just had to do it once?
A: If I had to do it once? Well, lately I-the only thing I lift is, you know, potato chips that get in the bag. I lift that. My daughter knows I-she knows my limits.
Q: Okay.
A: And she doesn't let me turn around and basically not even try to lift anything-
Q: Okay.
A: -heavier than five pounds.
Q: All right. Are you supposed to have your feet up?
A: Yes. I have to have my-when I'm sitting down, my feet has to be up [at] all times.
Q: Okay. Is this what your doctor tells you?
A: Yes.
Q: Do you have swelling in ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.