United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
DELPHINE C. LATHON WOODS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 28 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq and for Supplemental Security Income. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.
Facts and Background
Plaintiff was 48 years old at the time of the hearing. She has a limited education. Plaintiff had been employed as a cleaner, sweeper, working on street cleaning, factory work as a packer, laundry and dry cleaning work. There was also evidence that Plaintiff had abused illegal narcotics in the past and up to around 2009, according to her testimony. She also testified she had been incarcerated for possessing drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff lives in an apartment with her husband, who himself receives benefits. She has a friend who helps her clean the apartment, do dishes, do laundry, and transport to various places as needed.
Plaintiff provided additional testimony that she experiences depression and sometimes sees and hears things, as well as feeling paranoid sometimes. She can only sit for about 20 minutes at a time due to back pain she experiences. She can only stand in one location for about 30 minutes due to back pain as well. Plaintiff testified she can only walk 5 minutes before needing a break and cannot lift a gallon of milk. Furthermore she has memory problems and her legs ache all the time.
The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926.
A vocational expert testified in order to assist the ALJ in reaching a decision. The ALJ made inquiry of whether any occupation existed in significant numbers for a hypothetical person of Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience who could perform medium work in combination jobs except that she would be limited to never climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds and only occasionally climbing ramps and stairs as well as being limited work that is not routine or repetitive work. Considering the testimony in response to that inquiry the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform medium work, but was limited to jobs involving only routine repetitive tasks and that the Plaintiff should never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds but is able to climb ramps and stairs as well as kneel, crouch, and crawl. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's impairments would not preclude her from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a Kitchen helper (504, 208 jobs nationally and 9, 830 jobs in Missouri), a Housekeeper cleaner (877, 980 jobs nationally and 19, 790 jobs in Missouri). Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on November 15, 2013 and the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision for review by this court.
Statement of Issues
The general issues in a Social Security case are whether the final decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Social Security Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and whether the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. In this proceeding the specific issues are whether the ALJ appropriately considered the medical opinion evidence of record and whether the ALJ evaluated the credibility of Plaintiff.
Standard For Determining Disability
The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is "unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a) (4) (iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id... At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs within the national ...