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Robertson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

November 7, 2014

KIMBERLY ANN ROBERTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Kimberly Ann Robertson, Plaintiff: Robert J Engler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robberts & Kirkman, L.L.L.P., Burlington, IA; Eddy Pierre Pierre, PRO HAC VICE, Law Office of Harry Binder & Charles Binder, PC, New York, NY.

For Commissioner of Social Security, agent of Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant: Mark Mendola, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel - Region VI - Dallas, Dallas, TX; Stephanie Johnson Wright, U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW

III. FACTS

A. Robertson's Education and Employment Background

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Robertson's Testimony

2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

C. Robertson's Medical History

IV. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

A. ALJ's Disability Determination

B. Objections Raised By Claimant

1. Dr. Piburn's Opinions

2. Credibility Determination

C. Reversal or Remand

V. CONCLUSION

VI. ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 2) filed by Plaintiff Kimberly Ann Robertson on January 22, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Title XVI supplemental security income (" SSI") benefits.[1] Robertson 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, Robertson 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 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, 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).").

III. FACTS

A. Robertson's Education and Employment Background

Robertson was born in 1967. She completed the sixth grade. At the administrative hearing, when asked why she only completed the sixth grade, Robertson testified that " I just never made it through the seventh. I got expelled three times and a Judge took me out." [2] In her past, she held a job as a sandwich maker.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Robertson's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, the ALJ asked Robertson why she believed she was unable to work:

Q: So maybe you can tell me then, in your own words, Ms. Robertson, why can't you work? You know, what would keep you from being able to go 40 hours a week at some kind of a simple job that wasn't too demanding where you could just go there and do it?
A: My anxiety has a lot to do with my dealing with the outside world, and I don't leave the house much. I'm really paranoid. I stay in most of the time.
Q: Okay. All right. So then, what you're telling me is your biggest problem would be that you simply couldn't leave the house. You're stuck at home and you just don't want to leave the house, is that right?
A: Correct, Judge.
Q: And how often can you leave ...

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