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Butler v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

MICHAEL BUTLER, 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 of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.

         Facts and Background

         On October 15, 2013 and October 29, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Robin J. Barber conducted hearings. Plaintiff, Medical Expert Richard A. Hutson, M.D. and Delores Elvira Gonzalez, a Vocational Expert testified. Plaintiff was born on November 15, 1964. He was 48 years old at the time of the hearings. Plaintiff completed high school and he has completed some college.

         Plaintiff testified that he has problems bending to pick up a ball or put his socks on. Walking is a big issue for him because of numbness in his right leg. He also has pain in his left leg. Plaintiff further testified that he has had 4 surgeries since he last worked. The pain in his shoulders is gone since his shoulder surgery, but he continues to have back pain. He has taken narcotic medication for the pain, and has had injections as well. Although the medication helps the pain, it does not completely alleviate it. Plaintiff no longer engages in the hobbies he used to and does not get out to see family and friends very much. He has trouble mowing his lawn, and does not go shopping.

         The ALJ heard testimony from Dr. Hutson. Dr. Hutson testified that based upon the medical records he considered, Plaintiff was able to engage in sedentary work with additional restrictions. Dr. Hutson noted that Plaintiff had no loss of neuroanatomic functioning and recovered well after his surgeries.

         In answer to the ALJ's interrogatory regarding whether jobs existed in the national economy considering Plaintiff's limitations, the VE answered that an individual could perform the requirements of a doc preparer and press clipper/cutter/paster. These jobs were consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The ALJ found there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.

         The ALJ determined in her decision of July 3, 2014 that Plaintiff was not entitled to a finding of disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 30, 2015. 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 substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints and the medical opinion evidence.

         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 ...


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