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Brown v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 30, 2013

HARRY J. BROWN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


RICHARD G. KOPF, Senior District Judge.

In this social security appeal, plaintiff Harry J. Brown ("Brown") argues that the Commissioner of Social Security committed reversible error in determining that he is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


On May 26, 2009, Brown filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 13, 106-07.) In his application, Brown alleged that he has been disabled since January 16, 2007. (Tr. 13.) Brown's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. ( Id. ) On August 4, 2011, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding that Brown was not disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d) and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 14-29.) In her decision, the ALJ followed the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Social Security Regulations to evaluate Brown's disability claim.[1] See 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520, 416.920. The ALJ found as follows:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 16, 2007, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.871 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: mild to moderate degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine; chronic neck, shoulder, low back and knee pain; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; cognitive disorder status-post left frontal contusion, mild to moderate after traumatic brain injury, and obesity (20 CFR 202.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except that he can only occasionally climb and crawl and must avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards. Furthermore, he is limited to work that requires him only to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions, and perform routine tasks.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a cashier and tree trimmer. This work does not require the performance of work related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 16, 2007, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(Tr. 15-28.) After the ALJ issued her decision, Brown filed a request for a review with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 7-8.) On October 11, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Brown's request for review. (Tr. 1-3.) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.


A denial of benefits by the Commissioner is reviewed to determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Hogan v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence" is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion. Id. at 960-61; Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). Evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision must be considered, but the decision may not be reversed merely because substantial evidence supports a contrary outcome. See Moad v. Massanari, 260 F.3d 887, 890 (8th Cir. 2001).

This court must also review the decision of the Commissioner to decide whether the proper legal standard was applied in reaching the result. Smith v. Sullivan, 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992). Issues of law are reviewed de novo. Olson v. Apfel, 170 F.3d 820, 822 (8th Cir. 1999); Boock v. Shalala, 48 F.3d 348, 351 n.2 (8th Cir. 1995).


A. Relevant Medical History and Opinions

On March 5, 2005, Brown was involved in a motorcycle crash. (Tr. 305-06.) During the crash, Brown was T-boned by two vehicles and thrown from his motorcycle. ( Id. ) Brown sustained a closed brain injury, a scapular fracture, a pulmonary contusion, and a knee avulsion. ( Id. ) He was hospitalized until March 24, 2005, at which time he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. (Tr. 18, 305-06, 470.) On April 13, 2005, Brown was ...

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