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Songer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

March 27, 2017

DAVID B. SONGER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. and for denial of his application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. of the Social Security Act (Act), 1381, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.

         Facts and Background

         On August 21, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Carol L. Boorady conducted a hearing. Plaintiff appeared in person and the Vocational Expert, Stephen Kuhn, appeared as well.

         Plaintiff resided in a single family house located in Kirksville, Missouri. Plaintiff is married and resides with his wife. He has 4 children aged 12, 17, 21, and 27. Plaintiff was born on September 10, 1964. He was 49 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff completed high school.

         Plaintiff has prior work experience with a company named Ortech. He worked for them for about 22 years. He also worked for a company called Contico for about one year.

         On further examination by his attorney the Plaintiff testified, that he is being treated for depression, anxiety, and being treated with a mood stabilizer. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has hypomanic episodes. Plaintiff testified that when he has hypomanic episodes they can last for up to four or five days. He testified he has running thoughts and his brain won't shut down. He can't sleep and has urges to spend money. .

         There was testimony from Mr. Kuhn, the Vocational Expert. Mr. Kuhn testified and classified the past work experience of the Plaintiff in relation to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The Vocational Expert concluded Plaintiff could not perform his relevant past work. Based upon all of those considerations and the stated hypotheticals of the ALJ, including stated limitations, the Vocational Expert concluded that if the hypothetical person was missing four days per month they would not be able to maintain work. That is something not supported by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, but based upon the education, training, and work experience of the Vocational Expert. Likewise if the person was off task by 25 percent or more of the day the person would not be able to maintain work. Without missing days of work as a factor there were jobs at the medium work level available for Plaintiff as a cleaner, hand packer, assembler, hand packer at the light work level, and cleaner at the light work level. These were consistent with and in consideration of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to a finding of disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 27, 2016. The decision of the ALJ is now the final decision for review by this court.

         Statement of Issues

         The issues in a Social Security case are whether the final decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Social Security Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and whether the findings of fact by the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Here the Plaintiff asserts the specific issue in this case is whether the ALJ properly applied Listing 12.04 to the evidence of record, whether the ALJ properly considered the credibility of Plaintiff, and whether the ALJ properly weighed all medical evidence in the determination of the RFC of Plaintiff.

         Standard for Determining Disability

         The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be “of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in “substantial gainful activity”; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

         Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations.” Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a) (4) (iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id... At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

         Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs within the national economy. Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir.2012).

         RFC

         A claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is the most an individual can do despite the combined effects of all of his or her credible limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. An ALJ's RFC finding is based on all of the record evidence, including the claimant's testimony regarding symptoms and limitations, the claimant's medical treatment records, and the medical opinion evidence. See Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 969 (8th Cir.2010); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545; Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-8p. An ALJ may discredit a claimant's subjective allegations of disabling symptoms to the extent they are inconsistent with the overall record as a whole, including: the objective medical evidence and medical opinion evidence; the claimant's daily activities; the duration, frequency, and intensity of pain; dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medications and medical treatment; and the claimant's self-imposed restrictions. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir.1984); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529; SSR 96-7p.

         A claimant's subjective complaints may not be disregarded solely because the objective medical evidence does not fully support them. The absence of objective medical evidence is just one factor to be considered in evaluating the claimant's credibility and complaints. The ALJ must fully consider all of the evidence presented relating to subjective complaints, including the claimant's prior ...


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