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Kirkpatrick v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 3, 2014

WILLIAM H. KIRKPATRICK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff William H. Kirkpatrick 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. Kirkpatrick 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, Kirkpatrick requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 28, 2010, Kirkpatrick applied for both disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In his applications, Kirkpatrick alleged an inability to work since August 8, 2010 due to depression, anxiety, digestive problems, and ulcerative colitis. Kirkpatrick's applications were denied on November 4, 2010. On January 3, 2011, his applications were denied on reconsideration. On January 26, 2011, Kirkpatrick requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On March 21, 2012, Kirkpatrick appeared via video conference with his attorney before ALJ Tom L. Morris for an administrative hearing. Kirkpatrick and vocational expert Carma A. Mitchell testified at the hearing. In a decision dated May 11, 2012, the ALJ denied Kirkpatrick's claims. The ALJ determined that Kirkpatrick was not disabled and not entitled to disability insurance benefits or SSI benefits because he was functionally capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Kirkpatrick appealed the ALJ's decision. On January 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Kirkpatrick's request for review. Consequently, the ALJ's May 11, 2012 decision was adopted as the Commissioner's final decision.

On March 27, 2013, Kirkpatrick filed this action for judicial review. The Commissioner filed an Answer on June 27, 2013. On July 29, 2013, Kirkpatrick 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 other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On September 26, 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 31, 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. Kirkpatrick's Education and Employment Background

Kirkpatrick was born in 1969. He is a high school graduate. At the hearing, he testified that he was enrolled in regular classes at school, but often performed poorly due to ADHD and difficulties with concentration and pace. Kirkpatrick stated that he was a "D" student.

The record contains a detailed earnings report for Kirkpatrick. The report covers the time period of 1985 to 2011. Prior to 1987, Kirkpatrick had minimal earnings (less than $625). From 1987 to 2009, he earned between $3, 265.19 (1987) and $29, 994.52 (2002). He earned $448.88 in 2010, and has no earnings since 2011.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Kirkpatrick's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, Kirkpatrick testified that he has difficulty with concentration and focus. In order to understand and perform tasks, Kirkpatrick explained that he requires repetition. He also stated that stress and anxiety cause him significant problems. Kirkpatrick's attorney inquired of Kirkpatrick whether he suffered from suicidal thoughts. He responded that he has suicidal thoughts on a daily basis, and has attempted suicide three times in the past.

Kirkpatrick's attorney also questioned Kirkpatrick about his typical daily activities:

Q: How many days a week are you just in your room not doing anything, not ...

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