United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, District Judge.
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 and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.
Facts and Background
Plaintiff was 51 years old at the time of the hearing. He has a high school education. Plaintiff had past work experience in collections and customer service. Plaintiff testified that he suffers from depression and PTSD, which may be associated with a carjacking incident. He also stated he has difficulty focusing on simple tasks and has aches in both knees. Plaintiff lives with his mother in her home and rarely goes outside. He prepares meals for himself and does yard work around the house. He has no driver license and therefore is unable to drive.
Ms. Gonzales, a Vocational Expert testified, based upon a hypothetical presented by the ALJ, at the hearing as well. There were no physical restrictions in the hypothetical and the claimant could carry out simple instructions and detailed tasks. The hypothetical also included that he can respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers in a task oriented setting where contact with others is casual and infrequent. In addition, there could be no work in a setting which included constant, regular contact with the general public and no performance of any work which included more than infrequent handling of customer complaints. This included not working in close proximity to alcohol or controlled substances.
The ALJ concluded, based upon the inquiry of the Vocational Expert, that Plaintiff retained the Residual Functional Capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with nonexertional limits: he can understand, remember, and carry out at least simple instructions and non-detailed tasks. He can respond appropriately to supervisors and co-workers in a task oriented setting where contact with others is casual and infrequent. He should not work in a setting that includes constant/regular contact with the general public. The ALJ further concluded that Plaintiff should not perform work that includes more than infrequent handling of customer complaints and he should not work in close proximity to alcohol or controlled substances.
The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments that included hypomania, bipolar affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and cluster B traits with antisocial personality traits. The ALJ found he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ therefore concluded Plaintiff was not disabled.
The Appeals Council denied his request for review on March 31, 2014.The decision of the ALJ is now the final decision for review by this court.
Statement of Issues
The 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 by the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Here the Plaintiff asserts the ALJ did not properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility, and did not properly determine Plaintiff's RFC.
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 ...