United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff Revina Wilson on June 24, 2013, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. Wilson asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide her disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In the alternative, Wilson requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.
II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On June 24, 2013, Wilson filed this action for judicial review. The Commissioner filed an Answer on October 29, 2013. On November 29, 2013, Wilson 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 other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On January 28, 2014, 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 November 7, 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 decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") 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).").
A. Wilson's Education and Employment Background
Wilson was born in 1970. She completed the tenth grade in school. Later, she earned a GED. At the hearing, Wilson testified that she took some classes at community college, but was unable to complete them.
The record contains a detailed earnings report for Wilson. The report covers the time period of 1986 to 2012. Prior to 1999, Wilson had sporadic and minimal earnings (less than $375). From 1999 to 2001, she earned between $2, 706.93 (1999) and $9, 659.75 (2001). She had no earnings in 2002. Then, from 2003 to 2010, she earned between $1, 943.01 (2004) and $14, 976.91 (2009). Wilson has no earnings since 2011.
B. Administrative Hearing Testimony
1. Wilson's Testimony
At the administrative hearing, the ALJ asked Wilson's attorney to summarize Wilson's case for him. Wilson's attorney explained that Wilson suffers from severe depression related to the death of her son, including psychotic features relating to a desire to "find" her son who she believes is "missing." Next, the ALJ questioned Wilson. The ALJ asked Wilson why she stopped working. Wilson responded that she stopped working because she is unable to "focus." The ALJ also inquired about Wilson's typical day:
Q:... Tell me what you did yesterday to fill your day.
A: I didn't do anything yesterday.
Q: Were you lying in bed the whole time?
A: Basically, yes.
Q: Is that what you usually do or was yesterday unusual?
A: What I do every day, I just sit in the bed and look out the window.
Q: You do anything for fun?
Q: Is there anything you enjoy doing at all?
Q: How many hours would you reckon you sat on your bed yesterday and looked out the window if you had to guess? I know you didn't time it, but what would your best estimate be?
A: All day.
Q: Did you accomplish anything yesterday? Did you get dressed?
(Administrative Record at 44-45.)
Wilson's attorney also questioned Wilson. Wilson's attorney asked Wilson whether she received help with her daily activities. Wilson replied that her three children, ages 10 to 19, help her with her daily activities. Wilson indicated that she would have difficulty managing on her own without the help of her children. Next, Wilson and her attorney had the following colloquy relating to the cause and severity of her depression:
Q: Is there any consistency to anything you do? Do you have a daily plan that you try and follow?
A: No, I just want to find ...