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Rammelsberg v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 23, 2013

WILLIAM I. RAMMELSBERG Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff William I. Rammelsberg on March 27, 2013, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny his applications for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. Rammelsberg asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide him disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In the alternative, Rammelsberg requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 10, 2010, Rammelsberg applied for both disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In his applications, Rammelsberg alleged an inability to work since May 1, 2004 due to depression and ADHD.[1] Rammelsberg's applications were denied on May 4, 2010. On July 30, 2010, his applications were denied on reconsideration. On September 28, 2010, Rammelsberg requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On December 20, 2011, Rammelsberg appeared via video conference with his attorney before ALJ Jo Ann L. Draper for an administrative hearing. Rammelsberg and vocational expert Elizabeth Albrecht testified at the hearing. In a decision dated February 10, 2012, the ALJ denied Rammelsberg's claims. The ALJ determined that Rammelsberg was not disabled and not entitled to disability insurance benefits or SSI benefits because he was functionally capable of performing his past relevant work as a dishwasher or inventory clerk. Rammelsberg appealed the ALJ's decision. On January 23, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Rammelsberg's request for review. Consequently, the ALJ's December 20, 2011 decision was adopted as the Commissioner's final decision.

On March 27, 2013, Rammelsberg filed this action for judicial review. The Commissioner filed an Answer on June 27, 2013. On July 29, 2013, Rammelsberg filed a brief arguing that there is not substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's finding that he is not disabled and that he is functionally capable of performing his past relevant work as a dishwasher or inventory clerk. On September 24, 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. On July 30, 2013, both parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge in this matter pursuant to the provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

III. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

Title 42, United States Code, Section 405(g) provides that the Commissioner's final determination following an administrative hearing not to award disability insurance benefits is subject to judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the Court with the power to: "[E]nter... 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) (citation omitted). 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. 2010) ("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) (citation omitted). The Court not only considers the evidence which supports the ALJ's decision, but also the evidence that detracts from his or her 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) (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."). In Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained this standard as follows:

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.'

Id. (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991), in turn quoting Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988)). In Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549 (8th Cir. 2011), the Eighth Circuit further explained that a court "will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available zone of choice.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528 F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008)). "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 agency'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) (citing Chamberlain v. Shalala, 47 F.3d 1489, 1493 (8th Cir. 1995)); see also Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010) ("If substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, we will not reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence would have also supported a contrary outcome, or because we 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.' Clay v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 922, 928 (8th Cir. 2005).").

IV. FACTS

A. Rammelsberg's Education and Employment Background

Rammelsberg was born in 1973. He is a high school graduate. While in high school, Rammelsberg was placed in special education and behavioral classrooms for difficulties with attention and getting along with other students and teachers. Rammelsberg also testified that he studied for two years at a community college and earned at CET in communication electronics. During his time in community college, Rammelsberg received help from tutors in order to keep up with school work.

The record contains a detailed earnings report for Rammelsberg. The report covers the time period of 1990 to 2011. Rammelsberg had minimal earnings in 1990 (less than $300). From 1991 to 1996, he earned between $3, 745.18 (1991) and $9, 555.79 (1995). He had no earnings in 1997. From 1998 to 2005, Rammelsberg earned between $2, 972.93 (2005) and $16, 061.97 (2000). He had no earnings in 2006 and 2007, and only minimal earnings in 2008 and 2009 (less than $850 in both years). He has no earnings since 2010.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Rammelsberg's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, Rammelsberg's attorney asked Rammelsberg to discuss his difficulties with getting along with other people:

Q: What was the hardest part of that college for you? What was the worst part?
A: The people.
Q: Just dealing [with] people?
A: Yeah. I don't do good with people for more than five minutes or so.
Q: Okay. And that relates to way back when you were even in - a youngster?
A: Yes. That's why, I don't know, I just never get along with people for more than five ...

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