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Reece v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 24, 2016

Lacey Reece Plaintiff- Appellant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 14, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Jonesboro

          Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         After her application for Social Security benefits was denied by the Commissioner, Lacey Reece sought judicial review and the claim was remanded to obtain testimony from a vocational expert (VE) about her Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).[1] A second administrative hearing was held on September 9, 2013, after which her application was again denied. Reece again sought judicial review. The magistrate judge[2] affirmed the denial of her application for supplemental security income (SSI). On appeal, Reece argues that the determination by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that she is not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Reece was born on January 15, 1980, and has a GED. The only job she ever held was helping her husband on the turtle farm he owns. Reece filed an application for SSI on December 8, 2009, claiming she was unable to work due to osteoarthritis, lumbago, a congenital back defect, chronic stomach pain, and pulmonary restrictions.

         As support for her claim, Reece presented medical records and a Medical Source Statement from her treating physician, Dr. James Robinette, who had treated her for back and leg pain since at least May 12, 2008. In the Medical Source Statement, dated September 4, 2013, Dr. Robinette wrote that Reece suffers from osteoarthritis, chronic low back pain, and spastic colon. Though he placed no limitations on Reece's ability to stand, walk, or sit during an 8-hour work day, he opined that she could only stand or walk for 4 hours without a break and does not have the physical stamina to complete a normal workday or maintain a full-time work schedule. According to the Medical Source Statement, Reece could be expected to miss more than three days of work per month and her medications would decrease her ability to concentrate and persist in a work setting, requiring occasional redirection to remain on task.

         At the request of the Social Security Administration, Reece underwent a general physical examination by Dr. Raymond Valdes, who diagnosed her with low back pain, left hand weakness, and shortness of breath. On examination, Dr. Valdes determined that Reece's range of motion in her lumbar spine was limited to 75 degrees, rather than a full 90 degrees, and that she had an 85% grip in her left hand, which he characterized as a minimal loss. She otherwise had a normal range of motion for her cervical spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, hips, knees, and ankles. Dr. Valdes found Reece had a normal gait and coordination and could walk without an assistive device. Based on these findings, Dr. Valdes gave his opinion that Reece had "mild to moderate" limitations of functioning. Two state agency physicians, Dr. Jim Takach and Dr. Bill Payne, reviewed the evidence in the record and corroborated Dr. Valdes's opinion. They both concluded that Reece could perform a wide range of light work activity.

         At the time of the second administrative hearing, Reece was 33 years old and had not worked since June 1, 2009. Reece testified at her hearing as follows. She has an extra vertebra in her lower back, arthritis, high cholesterol, and a lung infection. She has back, leg, and hand pain. Despite being told by doctors to quit smoking, she continues to smoke a pack of cigarettes per day. She takes several medications for pain and other health issues, such as high cholesterol. She does not have side effects from the medications and she testified that the pain medications help some. She wears a rib brace, usually at night. She has a driver's license but does not drive very often. She testified that she cannot walk very far but she thought she could carry a 20 pound grocery bag to her car. Reece does most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and shopping for her household. She testified she home-schools her daughter but also testified that she attends school functions when parents are invited. She does not participate in social activities such as church or clubs. During the day she cleans the house, watches TV, and visits with her mother and sister.

         The ALJ also heard testimony from a VE at the second hearing. In response to a hypothetical question from the ALJ, the VE testified that Reece could perform light work, as long as it did not require climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and did not expose her to concentrated heat or cold. The VE testified that Reece could work as a small parts packer on a line, a cleaner or polisher, or a small parts assembler. But the VE testified that those jobs would not be available to someone who was absent more than three days a month. In his final hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE whether there were jobs available for a claimant who could not sit, stand, or walk in combination throughout the course of an eight-hour workday and needed to lie down in order to alleviate back and leg discomfort. The VE testified that these requirements could not be accommodated in any of the jobs she had mentioned.

         Following the second disability determination hearing, the ALJ found that Reece was not disabled. The ALJ evaluated Reece's claim according to the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); see also Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir. 2006). At steps one and two, the ALJ found Reece was not currently working and had severe impairments-osteoarthritis with lumbago and pulmonary restriction-that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work activities. At step three, the ALJ compared Reece's impairments to a list of impairments presumed severe enough to preclude any gainful employment, see 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. p, app. 1, and concluded that her impairments did not match or equal one of those listed impairments. The ALJ then determined that Reece had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), [3] except that she needed to be limited to jobs that did not require climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or expose her to unprotected heights or hazards, and that limited all remaining postural functions to being performed occasionally. In addition, the ALJ found that Reece needed to work in an environment free from exposure to extreme heat or cold. Although the ALJ found Reece had no past relevant work, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs in the economy that she could perform, such as a line worker, cleaner, or small product assembler. The ALJ determined that Reece therefore was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from December 8, 2009, through the date of the ALJ decision. The Social Security Appeals Council and the magistrate judge affirmed the ALJ's decision.

         Reece appeals, contending that the ALJ's decision that she is not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole because the ALJ failed to give good reasons for discounting Dr. Robinette's opinion.

         II. Discussion

         Our review of a district court's denial of Social Security benefits is de novo. Crawford v. Colvin, 809 F.3d 404, 407 (8th Cir. 2015). We "affirm the ALJ's finding if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Id. (quoting Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 892, 897 (8th Cir. 2011)). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence "that a reasonable mind might accept . . . as adequate to support a decision, " but it is a lower standard than preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 408 (quoting Juszczyk v. Astrue, 542 F.3d 626, 631 (8th Cir. 2008)). We consider all evidence in the record, whether it supports or detracts from the ALJ's decision. Id. In so doing, "'[w]e do not reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, ' and we defer to the ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of testimony, as long as those determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial evidence." Johnson v. Colvin, 788 F.3d 870, 872 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart, ...

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