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Johnston v. Colvin

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

December 5, 2016

JEFFERY D. JOHNSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         This action is for judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Jeffery Johnston's (“Plaintiff”) application for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had numerous severe impairments but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work as a surveillance system monitor, food and beverage order clerk, and medical supplies packager.

         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 application for disability insurance benefits on April 19, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 2011. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a video hearing on April 24, 2014, and on May 13, 2014, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 19, 2015, 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

         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's decision should be reversed or remanded because: (1) the RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner did not sustain her burden at step five.

         I. The ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence.

         With respect to his RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff possessed the ability

to perform sedentary work . . . except for the following nonexertional limitations that reduce the claimant's capacity for sedentary work: can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can never use power tools; can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; and must avoid ...

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