United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
PAMELA L. DAVIDSHOFER, 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 Pamela L. Davidshofer on September 6, 2013, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Title II disability insurance benefits. Davidshofer asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide her disability insurance benefits. In the alternative, Davidshofer requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.
II. 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). 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).").
A. Davidshofer's Education and Employment Background
Davidshofer was born in 1960. She completed the 12th grade. Her past relevant work was as a commercial industrial cleaner.
B. Administrative Hearing Testimony
1. Davidshofer's Testimony
Davidshofer testified that she last worked in 2007, when she was fired from her employment. When asked by her attorney why she could not find another job or go back to work, Davidshofer testified that "I have the fibromyalgia, and I can't stand on my feet for a long time, and if I do, then I start getting dizzy and light-headed, and I just cannot go back to cleaning anymore." (AR 39) Davidshofer's attorney questioned her about her physical and mental problems:
Q Okay. What physical problems do you have?
A Well, I have my - I get headaches a lot, and then my legs give out on me, and my hip gives out on me, and I've got that fibromyalgia. It's really bad too. It's been going through my body everywhere.
Q Okay, and you have mental health problems as well?
A Yes, I have mental health, yeah.
Q What mental health?
A Depression, and anxiety, and I have and stuff, so.
(Administrative Record at 40-41). According to Davidshofer, she can only stand for ten minutes before she gets dizzy and lightheaded and needs to sit down. She can only sit for 20 to 30 minutes before "getting really stiff and sore." She can only walk for four blocks before she gets "out of breath" and dizzy and lightheaded. Davidshofer described pain in her knees, back, neck, shoulders, and arms, which she attributes to fibromyalgia. She also described daily headaches, for which she takes Tylenol. When asked if she had been treated for the headaches, Davidshofer responded that "they said there's nothing wrong."
Davidshofer also testified that she has problems with anxiety and depression. In the past, she has suffered from panic attacks, but medication seems to help and her last panic attack was "a couple years ago." According to Davidshofer, she also has problems with her memory and concentrating. She also gets "mad very easy."
Davidshofer was living with her mother at the time of hearing and helped around the house, including doing half of the housework. She described her typical day as taking her dogs for a walk and then sitting and watching TV "most of the day." She helps her mother by running errands, but complained that "if I drive a long ways; it bothers me too." Davidshofer testified that she likes "walking my dogs" and working on puzzles.
2. Vocational Expert's Testimony
Marian Jacobs testified at the hearing as a vocational expert. The ALJ provided Jacobs with a hypothetical individual with certain limitations:
Assume a hypothetical individual of claimant's age, education and with the past jobs we described on the exhibit. Please assume that this individual is limited to - well, no exertional limitations. The additional limitations would be limited to simple, routine tasks.
(Administrative Record at 56.) Jacobs testified that such a person could perform the job of commercial industrial cleaner. The ALJ then asked the vocational expert if the hypothetical individual of Davidshofer's age could perform any other work? Jacobs testified that she could do the sedentary, unskilled job of "assembler of buttons and notions, " "addresser and sorter of envelopes, " laundry folder, and housekeeping cleaner. (AR 57)
Davidshofer's attorney offered a hypothetical where the individual would miss work more than three times a month. Jacobs testified that this limitation would preclude competitive employment. Similarly, Jacobs testified that if the person had "noticeable difficulty" in performing a designated task for more than 20% of the workday, then competitive employment would be precluded.
C. Davidshofer's Medical History
On February 23, 2009, Davidshofer was initially seen at the Black Hawk-Grundy Mental Health Center. Davidshofer reported that she had been separated from her husband for four years and was seeing "another guy, " but that he "wants nothing to do with her." According to Davidshofer, "this hurts her feelings" and she "cries a lot." (AR 369) Davidshofer also reported that a flood had destroyed her trailer "underneath" and that she was living with her mom. Davidshofer described her "active medical problems" as "frequent headaches, scoliosis, tumor in uterus, pain in back & legs." An initial assessment noted poor memory and a short ...