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Bradley v. Colvin

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

May 18, 2015

LINDA SUE BRADLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Linda Sue Bradley seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had a severe impairment, osteoarthritis, but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as an information clerk and assembler.

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

Factual and Procedural Background

The medical record is summarized in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

Plaintiff filed her application on April 27, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 18, 2010. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a video hearing, and on November 30, 2012, issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 27, 2014, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all of her administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review

A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny SSI 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.

Analysis

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).

Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed reversible error at step four because: (1) substantial evidence does not support the RFC determination; (2) the ALJ failed to provide a narrative link between the evidence and the RFC determination; and (3) the ALJ failed to develop the record. Plaintiff also contends the ALJ erred at step five by incorporating the flawed RFC determination into the ALJ's hypothetical question to the vocational expert ("VE"). These claims are without merit.

A. Substantial evidence supports the RFC determination.

It is the claimant's burden to prove her RFC. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). A claimant's RFC is based on the combined effects of all of her credible limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945. In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ considers a host of factors, including the claimant's medical history, medical signs and laboratory findings, effects of treatment, reports of daily activities, lay evidence, recorded observations, medical source statements, effects of symptoms, and attempts to work. SSR 96-8p. Although medical opinion evidence is a part of what the ALJ considers in formulating a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must formulate the RFC based on all of the relevant, credible evidence of record. Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 591. The ALJ is not limited to looking at the medical evidence only. Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th Cir. 2007).

The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the ability to perform light work if allowed to alternate sitting and standing positions for up to thirty-minute increments, and that she could perform mentally unskilled work only. The ALJ found Plaintiff's statements concerning the limiting effects of her symptoms not credible to the extent ...


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