United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
York (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the decision
of the Social Security Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, denying
her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under the
Social Security Act. Because the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the decision to deny benefits, the Court
affirms the denial of Plaintiff's application.
Background and Procedural History
July 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits alleging she was disabled as of May 1,
as a result of fibromyalgia, blood clots, diabetes, and high
blood pressure. (Tr. 58, 124-26). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and she
filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 71-78, 82-83)
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on December 12, 2013. (Tr. 30-57,
96-116). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was
thirty- one years of age, five feet and seven inches tall,
and weighed 290 pounds. (Tr. 23, 50). She explained that she
was unable to work because she suffered “fibromyalgia
and it affects my back and my hips. I have a history of blood
clots, which I have lot of swelling in my leg when I sit or
stand for very long periods. I just found out not too long
ago I have hepatitis C. I have diabetes. . . . I'm just
tired a lot. . . .” (Tr. 36). Plaintiff explained that
“standing or sitting for very long periods of
time” caused her leg to swell, and she had to
“get up and move it around” or “sit down
and take breaks.” (Tr. 37-38). Plaintiff stated she
generally elevated her leg “probably three to four
hours” between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
(Tr. 39). Plaintiff testified that she experienced pain,
numbness, and tingling in her hands for about four hours
every morning. (Tr. 40-41).
stated that she controlled her diabetes with “four
shots a day, ” Metformin, and “the diabetes
diet.” (Tr. 42). Plaintiff also took Oxycodone,
Savella, Lasix, and Xanax for her other conditions. (Tr.
44-45). Plaintiff believed the diabetes caused her fatigue,
and she usually took two forty-five-minute naps per day. (Tr.
43-44). Plaintiff testified that she was capable of: sitting
or standing for forty to forty-five minutes; walking
approximately one block; and lifting or carrying ten to
fifteen pounds. (Tr. 46). Plaintiff stated that she was able
to do buttons and zippers, but she could not reach or bend
over. (Tr. 46-47). Plaintiff helped her mother with cooking
and cleaning, but needed assistance grocery shopping and,
occasionally, getting in and out of the bath tub. (Tr. 49).
vocational expert (VE) also testified at the hearing. (Tr.
50-56). The ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical
individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and work
experience, and the ability to “lift, carry, push and
pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; could
stand and walk a total of six hours out of an eight-hour day;
sit six hours out of an eight-hour day; cannot climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; cannot work at unprotected heights or
around hazards. All other postural activities can be
performed on an occasional basis.” (Tr. 51). The VE
testified that such a person could perform Plaintiff's
previous jobs as a fast food worker, cashier, and short-order
cook, but not as a home healthcare aide. (Tr. 52). When the
ALJ asked the VE “what other kinds of jobs might be
available?, ” the VE identified the jobs of cashier II,
wire wrapping machine operator, and bench assembler. (Tr.
decision dated January 30, 2014, the ALJ applied the
five-step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520 and found that Plaintiff “has not
been under a disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act from December 27, 2011, through the date of this
decision.” (Tr. 18-25). The ALJ found that Plaintiff,
who was age twenty-nine on the alleged date of onset, had the
severe impairments of fibromyalgia syndrome, obesity,
diabetes mellitus, and history of deep vein thrombosis, and
the non-severe impairments of high blood pressure, hepatitis
C, toe fractures, and anxiety. (Tr. 20).
reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and medical records, the
ALJ determined that “the claimant's statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of
these symptoms are not entirely credible[.]” (Tr. 23).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b), including the ability to lift, carry, push and
pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently,
stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and sit
for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday. The claimant cannot climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds, be at unprotected heights or be
around hazards. She can perform all other postural activities
(Tr. 21-22). Based on the testimony of a vocational expert,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of performing
past relevant work as a convenience store cashier and fast
food worker. (Tr. 24). The ALJ further stated:
“Although the claimant is capable of performing past
relevant work, there are other jobs existing in the national
economy that she is also able to perform.”
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on April 15, 2015.
(Tr. 7-14, 1-6). 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
court 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 she is not disabled. Plaintiff
asserts that the ALJ erred in: (1) finding that Plaintiff
performed past relevant work at the substantial gainful
activity level; (2) improperly weighing the medical opinion
evidence when formulating Plaintiff's RFC; and (3)
finding that Plaintiff's allegations of disability were
not entirely credible. (ECF No. 16). The Commissioner
counters that the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion
evidence and Plaintiff's credibility and found that
Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant number
in the national economy. (ECF No. 17).
Past relevant work
first argues that the ALJ's decision at step four was not
supported by substantial evidence because Plaintiff's
earnings records “do not show [she] performed the
identified past work at the substantial gainful activity
level” and, as a result, those jobs do not constitute
“past relevant work” as defined by 20 CFR. §
404.1560(b)(1). (ECF No. 16 at 7). In response, the
Commissioner asserts that “[e]ven if those jobs did not
amount to past relevant work, …the ALJ found in the
alternative that Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing
in significant numbers in the national economy.” (ECF
No. 17 at 14).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether claimants are
eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Rater
v. Chater, 73 F.3d 796, 798 (8th Cir. 1996). “At
step four, the ALJ must determine whether or not the claimant
is able to return to his or her past relevant work.”
Id. The Social Security regulations define
“past relevant work” as “work experience
[that] was done within the last 15 years, lasted long enough
for you to learn to do it, and was substantial gainful
activity.” 20 CFR § 404.1565(a). “A
claimant's earnings ‘will ordinarily show' that
a claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity if the
‘earnings averaged…more than $500 a month in
calendar years after 1989.'” Reeder v.
Apfel, 214 F.3d 984, 989 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting 20 CFR
§ 404.1574(b)(2)(vii))). “Although earnings below
the guidelines will ‘ordinarily' show that ...