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Hixon v. Colvin

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

September 12, 2016

DAVID ALLEN HIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff David Allen Hixon petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found he had multiple severe impairments including degenerative disc disease, history of shoulder dislocation, and left ankle fracture, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a food and beverage order clerk or a document preparer. The ALJ thus found him not disabled.

         As explained below, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is therefore 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 the pending application on March 20, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of December 15, 2008, and a last-insured date of September 30, 2013. After the Commissioner denied his application, the Court remanded to the Commissioner to discuss a Missouri Department of Social Services determination. Hixon v. Colvin, No. 4:12-CV-1288-DGK-SSA, 2013 WL 6502169 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 11, 2013).

         Taking another look at Plaintiff's application, the ALJ considered 2014 and 2015 opinions by treating physician Samuel Brewster, M.D. (“Dr. Brewster”), that Plaintiff, in an eight-hour workday, could walk for only one hour, R. at 851, and could never operate foot controls, R. at 852, or tolerate exposure to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts, R. at 854. See generally R. at 850-56. The ALJ gave little weight to Plaintiff's subjective complaints, finding him incredible. R. at 596, 599.

         On the other hand, non-examining, non-treating state agency physician Denise Trowbridge, M.D. (“Dr. Trowbridge”), reviewed Plaintiff's file and concluded that Plaintiff could walk up to two hours in an eight-hour workday. R. at 272.

         From this record, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the RFC to walk up to two hours per workday. R. at 597; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a); SSR 96-6p, 1996 WL 374185, at *3 (July 2, 1996). The ALJ found Plaintiff must “avoid” exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. R. at 597. The ALJ did not assign a restriction on Plaintiff's ability to operate foot controls. See R. at 597.

         Identifying jobs Plaintiff could work with his RFC, the ALJ issued another unfavorable decision. R. at 602. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, 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).

         Standard of Review

         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. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 872, 876 (8th Cir. 2016). 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. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994).

         Discussion

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process 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). This five-step process considers whether: “(1) the claimant was employed; (2) he was severely impaired; (3) his impairment was, or was comparable to, a listed impairment; (4) he could perform past relevant work; and if not, (5) if he could perform any other kind of work.” Chaney, 812 ...


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