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Swope v. Colvin

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

April 7, 2015

DAVIE W. SWOPE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

This action seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("the Commissioner") decision denying Plaintiff Davie Swope's applications for Social Security benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), depression/anxiety, hypertension, and obesity, but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with several restrictions.

After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

Procedural and Factual Background

The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

Plaintiff filed his applications on November 29, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of November 21, 2010. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on October 12, 2012, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 3, 2014, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

Discussion

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at step four in the sequential evaluation process because his credibility determination and his RFC determination are not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff also contends the ALJ erred at step five by finding that Plaintiff could perform other work. These arguments are without merit.

A. The ALJ did not err in analyzing Plaintiff's credibility.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ's credibility analysis is unsupported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Plaintiff suggests the ALJ's credibility determination is based on an inaccurate perception that he did not have a good or consistent work history. He also contends the ALJ erred in discounting his credibility because he failed to stop smoking quickly.

When the ALJ discounts a claimant's credibility, he is required to explain why he did not fully credit the claimant's complaints. Lowe v. Apfel, 226 F.3d 969, 971 (8th Cir. 2000). Credibility questions are "primarily for the ALJ to decide, not the courts." Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 558 (8th Cir. 2003). "If an ALJ explicitly discredits the claimant's testimony and gives good reasons for doing so, the Court ...


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