United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
RALPH E. SCOTT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Ralph Scott seeks review of the decision of the Social
Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying his
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental 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
3, 2012 and July 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income alleging he was disabled as of October 15,
as a result of severe back problems, five ruptured discs, and
nerve pain. (Tr. 142-49, 74). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and he
filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 65-73, 95).
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on May 5, 2014. (Tr. 33-64). At the
hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was thirty-two years of
age, had a ninth grade education, and earned his GED at age
seventeen. (Tr. 39). Plaintiff lived with his wife and four
children, ages six, seven, ten, and eleven. (Tr. 48).
testified that he originally injured his neck working at a
sawmill. (Tr. 42). Several years later, he received
“outpatient epidural shots.” (Id.).
Although Plaintiff denied having any surgeries,
Plaintiff's counsel directed the ALJ's attention to a
medical record reflecting that Plaintiff underwent a
percutaneous discectomy on April 14, 2010. (Tr. 52-53).
testified that his most recent employment was as a cook and
delivery driver at a pizza restaurant for about three months.
(Id.). Plaintiff stated that he could not perform
his job because “I couldn't stand on my feet to do
the cooking job.” (Tr. 39). He explained that the pain
was “severe” and “[i]t would go down my
right leg, and I'd have cramps in my left shoulder that
would prevent me from leaning into the oven.” (Tr. 40).
On days that the pain was “more severe, unbearable,
” he would stay home and “relax.”
(Id.). Plaintiff stated that lying down “would
relieve the pressure…in my neck. But then I would
start getting cramped up in my legs. So I would have to get
up and move around.” (Id.). Approximately
every half hour, Plaintiff would “lay down for about
30, 45 minutes at a time. . . . [t]hroughout the day, all
day.” (Tr. 41). Plaintiff testified that, by the time
of the hearing, this was a daily pattern. (Id.).
explained that the pain in his neck was “pretty much a
constant cramp, where . . . the movements are real
limited” and the pain “goes down to my left arm .
. . into the thumb and the pinky finger.” (Tr. 42).
Plaintiff had difficulty gripping with his left hand and
could only “do stuff with that arm” for thirty to
forty-five minutes before needing to rest for forty-five
minutes to an hour. (Tr. 42-43). Plaintiff could not
straighten his left arm “all the way out” because
there was “a pinched nerve that shoots pain down
through my neck.” (Tr. 43).
the ALJ questioned Plaintiff about his back pain, Plaintiff
stated that he had “a couple of ruptured discs and
pinched nerves in the lower lumbar and the cervical
spine” and the pain “radiates down the center of
my back, down to my right hip, and down to the right
leg.” (Tr. 44). Plaintiff's right leg was
“pretty much always cramped up” and “if it
gets too cramped or sore, it'll start going numb.”
(Id.). Plaintiff took hydrocodone four times per
day, which made him “lightheaded” and prevented
him from driving “too much.” (Tr. 44-45).
Plaintiff also took Flexeril and gabapentin. (Tr. 45).
Despite the Flexeril, Plaintiff continued to experience
muscle spasms in his right leg which lasted “from a
minute or two to 30, 40 minutes” and occurred every
night. (Tr. 45). Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr.
Maynard, prescribed his pain medications. (Tr. 48). He did
not have an orthopedist. (Id.).
testified that he was able to lift about ten pounds and could
only walk twenty to thirty minutes and stand or sit for
thirty to forty-five minutes. (Tr. 45-46). Plaintiff stated
that he typically alternated between sitting in his recliner,
lying on the couch, and walking around, explaining,
“[m]oving around is just to get one pain to stop until
another one starts to aggravate.” (Tr. 47). Plaintiff
drove his car “[m]aybe once a week to pick the kids up
from school.” (Tr. 49). Plaintiff tried to help his
wife with household chores that did not require “too
much bending over, ” such as folding laundry and
rinsing dishes. (Tr. 50-51). On nights when Plaintiff's
wife worked, “she'll have something already cooked
and in the oven. And I just - I'll go turn the oven on to
reheat it.” (Tr. 51). Plaintiff did not shop for
groceries or do yard work. (Id.). He “used to
have a little woodworking shop, but I can't get in there
vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 56-63).
The ALJ asked the vocational expert to consider a
hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's work history who
was limited to light work, except the individual can only
stand and walk two hours of an eight-hour workday, would also
need to be able to alternate positions every 45 minutes for a
brief position change while continuing to work, would need to
have no overhead reaching. . . no climbing of ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds, and only occasional stooping and crouching; and
no more than moderate exposure to work hazards such as moving
machinery and unprotected heights. And no more than
occasional gripping and fingering of the left non-dominant
hand. (Tr. 59). The vocational expert stated that such an
individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant
work and “would be limited to sedentary, unskilled
occupations.” (Tr. 60). The vocational expert opined
that “there's only a handful of occupations that
fall within that criteria, ” including surveillance
system monitor and credit checker. (Tr. 60). When the ALJ
expanded the hypothetical to allow “no more than
frequent gripping and fingering with the nondominant hand,
” the vocational expert testified that the hypothetical
individual could perform the additional jobs of document
preparer, eyeglass polisher, and patcher. (Tr. 60-61).
However, if the individual required a fifteen-minute break
“every day on a consistent basis, ” he would be
precluded from all unskilled, competitive employment. (Tr.
decision dated August 6, 2014, 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, as defined in the Social Security
Act, from October 15, 2011 through the date of this
decision[.]” (Tr. 21-28). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: “history of
displaced L4-5 dis[c] without myelopathy requiring
decompression with residual lumbar radiculopathy; history of
dis[c] protrusion C6-7[.]” (Tr. 23).
reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and medical records and
finding that he was “not entirely credible, ” the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
perform light work (lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds frequently) . . . except: He can only stand and
walk two hours of an 8 hour work day and would need to be
able to alternate positions every 45 minutes for a brief
position change while continuing to work at the work station.
He can perform no overhead reaching and no climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop and
crouch. He can have no more than moderate exposure to work
hazards such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. He
can perform no more than frequent gripping of the left
(Tr. 24). Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to
perform his past relevant work but could perform other jobs
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on December 7, 2015.
(Tr. 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.