United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Trucks (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the Social
Security Administration's (“SSA”) decision
denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
and Social Security Income under the Social Security
Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports
the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial
of Plaintiff's applications.
Background and Procedural History
November 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Social Security Income pursuant to
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 132-46).
Plaintiff alleged he was disabled as of June 23,
as a result of degenerative disc disease and “bipolar
condition.” (Tr. 180-84) The SSA denied Plaintiff's
claims, and he filed a timely request for a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 82-86,
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on July 22, 2013. (Tr. 95-99, 34-71). At
the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he and his ex-wife
shared custody of their three children and he currently lived
with his girlfriend of three years. (Tr. 37, 40). Plaintiff
testified that he “used to be an alcoholic” but
stopped drinking “[a]bout three years ago when me and
my fiance got together.” (Tr. 43). Upon further
questioning by the ALJ, Plaintiff conceded, “I still
occasionally drink. I do like one or two beers every like six
months with a friend.” (Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff believed
he was disabled as a result of back pain, explaining,
“There's days when I can't even get out of
bed.” (Tr. 44, 48). Plaintiff testified that he
required assistance to bathe and dress, used an electric
scooter when shopping, could stand no longer than fifteen to
twenty minutes, did not do housework, and had difficulty with
balance. (Tr. 48, 52-54). He attributed his muscular physique
to genetics. (Tr. 44).
regard to his bipolar disorder, Plaintiff testified that he
had “lost several jobs because of manic episodes on the
job.” (Tr. 45). He described incidents in which he
“flipped out, ” explaining that he
“tend[ed] to say and do things that I don't mean or
don't realize that I'm saying or doing while it's
happening.” (Tr.45-46). Plaintiff stated that the
skills and techniques he learned through counseling
“don't work.” (Tr. 47). He was currently
taking lithium for his mental health. (Tr. 51).
vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 57-70).
The ALJ asked the vocational expert to consider a
hypothetical individual of Plaintiff's age, education,
and work experience, capable of light exertional work with
the following limitations: never climb ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally
stoop, crouch, and crawl. (Tr. 64-65). The ALJ added that the
hypothetical individual was limited to “low stress,
which is defined as only occasional decision making and
occasional changes in the work setting; and only occasional
interaction with the public, co-workers or
supervisors.” (Tr. 65). The vocational expert testified
that such individual could not perform Plaintiff's past
relevant work as a fast food worker, formulator, or yard
coupler. (Tr. 65). However, she stated the individual could
perform other jobs in significant number in the national
economy, including housekeeping, routing clerk, and
merchandise marker. (Tr. 65-66).
decision dated November 20, 2013, the ALJ applied the
five-step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920 and found that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act from June 23, 2011 through the date
of this decision[.]” (Tr. 12-26). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff, who was twenty-four years of age on the alleged
date of onset, had the severe impairments of “mild
degenerative disc disease and a bipolar affective
disorder.” (Tr. 14).
reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and medical records and
finding that Plaintiff was “not overly credible,
” the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to “perform medium work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except he should
never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds, but is able to
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl.” (Tr. 17). The ALJ further limited Plaintiff
to “low stress jobs, with ‘low stress'
defined as only occasional decision-making and occasional
changes in the work setting” and “jobs with only
occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors and the
public.” (Id. at 17, 24). Finally, the ALJ
held that, although Plaintiff was not able to return to any
of his past work, “there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
can perform[.]” (Tr. 24-25). Specifically, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of
housekeeper/cleaner, routing clerk, merchandise marker,
parking lot attendant, and document preparer. (Tr. 25).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on March 25, 2015.
(Tr. 6-8, 1-5). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the SSA's
final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07
Standard of Review
must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind might
find it adequate to support the conclusion.'”
Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996)
(quoting Boerst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th
Cir. 1993)). In determining whether the evidence is
substantial, a court considers evidence that both supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.
2009). However, a court “do[es] not reweigh the
evidence presented to the ALJ and [it] defer[s] to the
ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of
testimony, as long as those determinations are supported by
good reason and substantial evidence.” Renstrue v.
Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir.
after reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to
draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of
those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court
must affirm the ALJ's decision.” Partee v.
Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir.
2005)). The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that a court
should “defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions” of the Social Security Administration.
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010);
Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's determination that he was not disabled. More
specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in: (1)
finding Plaintiff's subjective allegations of disabling
pain not credible; and (2) discounting the opinion of
examining psychologist, Dr. Joseph Long, when formulating
Plaintiff's mental RFC. The Commissioner counters that
the ALJ properly found Plaintiff's subjective allegations
of pain not credible and created a mental RFC based upon
substantial evidence of record.
argues that there was “no substantial evidentiary
basis” for the ALJ's determination that
Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain were not
credible. (ECF No. 16 at 9). In response, the Commissioner
asserts that the ALJ “articulated multiple valid
reasons for ...