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Malcinovic v. Colvin

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

June 23, 2015

IFETA MALCINOVIC, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 3) filed by Plaintiff Ifeta Malcinovic on October 10, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Title II disability insurance benefits.[1] Malcinovic 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, Malcinovic 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 "must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.'" Bernard v. Colvin, 774 F.3d 482, 486 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 577 (8th Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is relevant evidence a "reasonable mind would find adequate to support the commissioner's conclusion.'" Grable v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2011)).

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 Draper v. Colvin, 779 F.3d 556, 559 (8th Cir. 2015) ("If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusions, th[e] court does not reverse even if it would reach a different conclusion, or merely because substantial evidence also supports the contrary outcome.' Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007)."); Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) ("As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, [the court] may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because [the court] would have decided the case differently.' Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002).").

III. FACTS

A. Malcinovic's Education and Employment Background

Malcinovic was born in 1969. She completed the eighth grade in school in Bosnia. Her primary language is Bosnian, but she can speak and read "a little" English. Her past relevant work in the United States consists of being a meat packager at Tyson Foods.

B. Administrative Hearing Testimony

1. Malcinovic's Testimony

At the administrative hearing, Malcinovic explained that she was injured while working at Tyson Foods. She stated that she believes she is disabled due to back pain and depression. Malcinovic's attorney inquired about her functional abilities:

Q:... And does the [back] pain limit your ability to stand?
A: Yes.
Q: How long can you stand and what happens after you stand that long?
A: I could stand for 15 or 20 minutes. After that, my whole body is just like ready to collapse. Then I have to sit or sometimes even lay down.
Q: And what about sitting? How long can you sit at one time and what happens after you do that?
A: Same, 15, 20 minutes. And after that the pain [is] kicking in and I have to stand up and try to walk around a little bit.
Q: And how long do you have to walk around or stand?
A: Ten, fifteen minutes or so.
Q: Okay. And how far can you walk and what happens after you walk that far?
A: Well, I become tired easily. My legs start, become numb, and I become nervous really easily.
Q: Okay. Do you have problems with bending or kneeling and what problems do you have?
A: Yes, when I try to bend over, I just can't bend over.
Q: Okay. And what about kneeling?
A: It's really painful.
Q: And do you have problems with lifting things and how much can you lift?
A: Well, ... since I was injured, I tried to lift a box and that's when I fell and since then, I never lift anything, because I don't want to experience that same pain ever ...

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