United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
DIANNE M. ADKINS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dianne Adkins seeks review of the decision of the Acting
Social Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II
of 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
December 2012, Plaintiff, born February 28, 1954, filed an
application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging she
was disabled as of January 1, 2000 as a result of bipolar
disorder. (Tr. 56-61). 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. 68).
October 17, 2014, an ALJ conducted a hearing at which
Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified. (Tr. 24-55). In a decision dated November 24,
2014, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation process set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and determined
that Plaintiff “was not under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 1, 2000,
the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2001, the date
last insured[.]” (Tr. 19).
found that Plaintiff suffered the severe impairment of
bipolar disorder. (Tr. 13). Based on his review of the
medical opinion evidence, medical records, and testimony, the
ALJ determined that, through December 31, 2001, Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
“perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels” with the following nonexertional limitations:
“The claimant shall have limited contact with
co-workers, supervisors and the public; and the claimant is
limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple
instructions.” (Tr. 15). The ALJ further found that,
through December 21, 2001, Plaintiff was unable to perform
any past relevant work, but there existed a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could
perform. (Tr. 18).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on February 4, 2016.
(Tr. 1-7). 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 the 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.” Renstrom 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 the ALJ erred at step five of the sequential
evaluation process, when he found, based upon the VE's
testimony, that Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (ECF
No. 14). Plaintiff contends the VE's testimony did not
provide substantial evidence to support that finding because
the: (1) hypothetical question did not contain all of
Plaintiff's limitations; (2) VE's testimony
conflicted with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”); and (3) VE's testimony lacked a
reliable basis. (Id.). In response, Defendant
asserts that the ALJ properly relied on the VE's
testimony because: (1) the jobs identified by the VE were
consistent with Plaintiff's RFC; (2) the VE's
testimony was consistent with the DOT; and (3) the VE's
testimony was reliable. (ECF No. 19).
five of the sequential analysis, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to establish that the plaintiff maintains the
RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv)-(v). See also
Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000).
“Generally, if the claimant suffers from nonexertional
impairments that limit her ability to perform the full range
of work described in one of the specific categories set forth
in the guidelines, the ALJ is required to utilize testimony
of a vocational expert.” Jones v. Astrue, 619
F.3d 963, 971-72 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Reed v.
Sullivan, 988 F.2d 812, 816 (8th Cir. 1993)).
“Testimony from a vocational expert constitutes
substantial evidence only when based on a properly phrased
hypothetical question.” Pickney v. Chater, 96
F.3d 294, 296 (8th Cir. 1996).
hearing, the VE testified that he had been working as a
vocational consultant with disabled adults “for the
past 25 or 30 years.” (Tr. 49). Based on his experience
working with individuals suffering bipolar disorder, he
stated that whether a person with bipolar disorder is able to
work “depends on the severity and the ability to
control. In and of itself, bipolar disorder would not
preclude a person from working.” (Tr. 50). The VE
opined that, when people with bipolar disorder are not able
to maintain employment, it is generally due to an inability
“to respond appropriately to supervision and coworkers,
and even the ...