United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
DANE A. HAGEMEIER, 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 Dane A. Hagemeier on August 18, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny his application for Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. Hagemeier asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide him SSI benefits. In the alternative, Hagemeier 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).").
A. Hagemeier's Education and Employment Background
Hagemeier was born in 1989. He completed the twelfth grade in school. In accordance with Social Security regulations, the ALJ determined that Hagemeier has no past relevant work; however, the record demonstrates that on several occasions, he worked part-time for Goodwill Industries.
B. Administrative Hearing Testimony
1. Hagemeier's Testimony
At the administrative hearing, Hagemeier's attorney inquired whether Hagemeier was currently employed. Hagemeier responded that he was working part-time at the "People's Clinic" through Goodwill Industries. He stated that he worked approximately 15 hours per week in a group setting. Hagemeier's attorney and Hagemeier had the following colloquy regarding his job:
Q: Do you like the job?
A: I, what do you mean? Like do I -
Q: Like the job.
A: I don't mind the work, but I don't like being at the job.
A: I just, I just can't. It's hard for me to focus on it. Like I'm just thinking about, you know, like before I go there the whole day I won't want to go there. Then when I get there all I want to do is go home. And then when I get home I just don't really have anything to do and I've just got to go to bed and that depresses me. And I think mainly it might be because of the time and I'm just, I don't know if it's my physical condition or whatever, but I just can't.
Q: Do you have any problems performing the job?
A: No, I don't. Well, other than - it's like when I get distracted it makes it, it makes it harder to, to want to do the [job, ]... but it's not within my control....
Q: Do you get along with other people in the job?
A: I get along with my supervisors, but well, there's a main supervisor. Her name is Carrie. And then there's other ones that I get along with most of them. But most of the people I work with I don't usually talk to, but I mean I haven't had any problems with them.
Q: Do you think you can do the job full time?
A: No, I ...