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Wright v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

July 9, 2014

JENNIFER WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.

Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for disability benefits. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I.

Plaintiff was born in March 1974, and has prior work experience as a cook, food service worker, cleaner, janitor, and convenience store clerk. Plaintiff claimed disability based primarily on obesity and varicose veins beginning in December 2009. The administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued his decision on February 21, 2012, finding, among other things, that Plaintiff:

has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with sitting six hours total in an eight-hour workday, standing and walking four to six hours total in an eight-hour workday, with an option to sit or stand 15 minutes per hour, lifting 20 pounds occasionally 10 pounds frequently, no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, no work at unprotected heights, and occasional climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling.

R. 26. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.

II.

"[R]eview of the Secretary's decision [is limited] to a determination whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is evidence which reasonable minds would accept as adequate to support the Secretary's conclusion. [The Court] will not reverse a decision simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Forsythe v. Sullivan, 926 F.2d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Hutsell v. Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir. 1989)). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).

A. Plaintiff's Credibility

Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in failing to find her testimony regarding disabling impairments to be wholly credible. The Court disagrees.

The Court finds there is substantial evidence on the Record as a whole to support the finding that Plaintiff's allegations of complete inability to do work are not credible. First, the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff's activities of daily living were inconsistent with her assertion of disability. R. 27. Plaintiff's activities of daily living include: biweekly grocery shopping, cooking, house cleaning, washing, doing the dishes and laundry, vacuuming, personal care, watching television, attending church, socializing with friends, using a computer, and working part-time. R. 27, 177-80. "[A]cts which are inconsistent with a claimant's assertion of disability reflect negatively upon that claimant's credibility.'" Heino v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 873, 881 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1148 (8th Cir. 2001)).

The ALJ also considered Plaintiff's part-time work when assessing Plaintiff's credibility. The Record shows that Plaintiff worked part-time as a janitor during her alleged period of disability. R. 27, 40, 85, 246. Despite Plaintiff's argument to the contrary, the ALJ specifically acknowledged that this part-time work did not constitute substantial gainful activity. R. 24. Nevertheless, it was proper for the ALJ to consider Plaintiff's part-time work when assessing Plaintiff's credibility. See Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2005) ("Working generally demonstrates an ability to perform a substantial gainful activity."); Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926, 930 (8th Cir. 2004) ("It was also not unreasonable for the ALJ to note that [the claimant's]... part-time work [was] inconsistent with her claim of disabling pain."); see also Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 823 (8th Cir. 1992).

Plaintiff argues the ALJ was not permitted to use his observations at the hearing to any extent in the credibility assessment. The Court disagrees. The ALJ noted that although Plaintiff alternated sitting and standing at the hearing, she did not evidence disabling pain or discomfort while testifying at the hearing. R. 27. The ALJ noted "[t]he hearing was short-lived and cannot be considered a conclusive indicator of the claimant's overall level of pain on a day-to-day basis, but the apparent lack of discomfort during the hearing is given some slight weight in reaching the conclusion regarding the credibility of the claimant's allegations and the claimant's residual functional capacity." R. 27. These observations were properly considered when assessing Plaintiff's credibility. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147-48 (8th Cir. 2001) ("The ALJ's personal observations of the claimant's demeanor during the hearing [are] completely proper in making credibility determinations.").

Although it may be that any one of these factors alone would be insufficient to justify the ALJ's findings, collectively they serve as substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision-particularly given that the primary responsibility for the assessment lies with the ALJ and not the Court. The ALJ is in the best position to determine a claimant's credibility, and thus this Court grants the ALJ deference in that regard. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). ...


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