United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
DARLENE V. ODEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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 Darlene V. Oden on December 4, 2013, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. Oden asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide her SSI benefits. In the alternative, Oden requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.
II. 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: "[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 it 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, 393 F.3d at 801 (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. Oden's Employment Background
Oden was born in 1954. In the past, Oden worked as an inspector, assembly-line sorter, laborer, and cook. Most recently, she worked as a cook at the Salvation Army in 2009.
B. Administrative Hearing Testimony
1. Oden's Testimony
At the administrative hearing, Oden testified that she suffers from PTSD due to a sexual assault she was subject to as a teenager in 1973. Oden also stated that she suffers from depression. According to Oden, "I cry a lot... I have no place to live and I don't have no income and it's hard for me to, to abide with society without no income." Oden further indicated that she has difficulties with anxiety. She described her symptoms as sweating, shaking, and trembling in social situations.
Oden also discussed her physical impairments. She stated that she suffers from asthma and obstructive pulmonary problems. She testified that "when I try to move around like a flight of steps it'll set it off. I can't walk up and down the steps." Oden's attorney questioned Oden about specific functional abilities:
Q: Do you have problems standing?
Q: What problems do you have with standing?
A: If I'm standing a long time my legs get to burning and then I have to sit down.
Q: How long is a long time?
A: I'll say about if I stand a[n] hour it's going to start burning so I have to sit down.
Q: And do you have any problems sitting?
A: Yes, with my knees for a long length of time. Like I say If I'm in a car driving for like here [(Waterloo)] to Cedar Falls I got to get out and stretch because my legs bother me....
Q: Okay. And do you have problems with reaching or lifting your arms over your head?
A: My right arm, my right arm....
Q: Okay. And what problem, what problems do you have reaching above your shoulders?
A: It gets a burning and sting and I have sharp pains in there and this hand if I'm holding something or trying to stir something I'll drop it because I can't ...