United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
DAVID L. WEBER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
RULING ON JUDICIAL REVD2W
JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff David L. Weber on December 24, 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. Weber 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, Weber 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). 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." Wester 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. Weber's Education and Employment Background
Weber was born in 1963. He completed the twelfth grade. While in school, he was enrolled in special education classes for math and reading. At the administrative hearing, Weber testified that he continues to have difficulties reading. He stated "I read something about three or four times before I get it right the first time." In the past, Weber worked as a punch press operator.
B. Administrative Hearing Testimony
1. >Weber's Testimony
At the administrative hearing, Weber's attorney asked Weber why he is unable to work. Weber stated that he can no longer work due to problems with his legs and arms. Specifically, Weber testified that his legs go numb, and he has tendinitis in his arms. Weber further stated that he has difficulty walking and standing due to his leg problems. For example, due to swelling in his legs and ankles, Weber stated that he needs to elevate his legs two hours during the day and before he goes to bed at night. Weber also indicated that he has pain associated with the swelling in his ankles and legs. Weber rated his leg pain at 9.5 to 10, on a scale of zero to ten with zero being no pain and ten being the greatest pain. According to Weber, he treats his pain with Tylenol. Additionally, Weber testified that continuous use of his hands and wrists also causes numbness.
Weber also stated that he has a serious weight problem. He is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 414 pounds. Due to his weight issues, Weber has difficulty bending, stooping, kneeling, and squatting. Another problem caused by his weight issues is shortness of breath, particularly when the weather is hot and humid. Weber testified that he can walk about 30 minutes before becoming short of breath. He stated that after 30 minutes, he needs to sit down and rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Moreover, Weber testified that in general, he can only perform any type of activity for about 30 minutes before needing to rest.
Weber's attorney also inquired about Weber's typical daily activities:
Q: How much of the daytime hours are you in [your] chair?
A: During the [daytime] hours, maybe two hours at the most.
Q: You mean that's two hours continuous?
A: Two hours continuous.
Q: How about out of the whole day, how much time?
A: About four hours, 4.5.
Q: Okay. How much during the day are you awake, would you say?
A: I usually get up in the morning, 7:00, maybe about noon.
Q: Go back to bed?
A: Go back to bed for a while, get some sleep.
A: Get up about 2:00, 2:30.
Q: Okay, than [(sic)] what?
A: I go outside for a while, sit down and I'll get fresh air and get my mail and stuff, and that's about all I do....
Q: And are you able to do your own cooking, cleaning, or do you have help with that?
A: I do my own cooking and cleaning myself....
Q: Do you have any difficulty lifting or carrying things, because you're either, your hands or just weakness in general?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: What's the most you think you can frequently lift, which would be about two-thirds of the time, what would be the most ...