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Bowen v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 19, 2015

NANCY J. BOWEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

Nancy J. Bowen, Plaintiff: Steve Wolf, LAW OFFICE OF STEVE WOLF, LLC, St. Louis, MO.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Jane Rund, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF U.S. ATTORNEY, St. Louis, MO.



This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 42 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 53 years old at the time of the hearing. She has 14 years of education. Plaintiff attended college and trade school. Plaintiff had been in sales and bookkeeping. Plaintiff also worked in food service as a waitress and bartender. There was also evidence that Plaintiff had abused prescription drugs in the past. Plaintiff is capable of performing light housekeeping, cooking simple meals and driving a car. She can shop for groceries and handle money. Plaintiff watches television and reads daily without difficulty. Plaintiff received help with the dispensation of her medication, due to taking too much at one time.

Plaintiff provided additional testimony that although she has tested positive for Hepatitis C, she has never received treatment for it because no doctor has prescribed any treatment. Both of her wrists have been shattered and Plaintiff testified that she cannot perform repetitive work and that her wrists are very weak. Although Plaintiff testified that she has fibromyalgia, no rheumatologist has ever confirmed the diagnosis. Plaintiff has a lot of pain in her back due to several car accidents. She has trouble sitting for long periods of time. Plaintiff has periods of anxiety.

The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of history of hepatitis C, history of fractured wrists, obesity, degenerative changes of the lumbar spine, major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, myalgias and arthralgias vs. Fibromyalgia. 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 lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally; 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk for six hours per day, sit for six, occasionally stoop, perform light work, with no direct contact with food products. Considering the testimony in response to that inquiry the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work, but was limited to jobs with infrequent and casual contact with others and not in a setting which includes regular/constant contact with the general public and that the Plaintiff should not perform work which includes more than infrequent handling of customer complaints. 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 small parts assembler and a light fixture assembler. Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 8, 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 ...

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