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McKendrick v. Berryhill

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

March 13, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Scott McKendrick (Plaintiff) seeks review of the decision of the Social Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.[1] Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial of Plaintiff's application.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         In July 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (Tr. 180-87, 188-93). Plaintiff, born on May 11, 1983, alleged disability beginning October 3, 2008 as a result of a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 180-87, 188-93). 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. 22-35). The SSA granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ conducted a hearing on October 1, 2014. (Tr. 22). In a decision dated December 4, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 3, 2008, through the date of this decision[.]” (Id.).

         In her decision, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920[2] and found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of “status post multiple fractures of the upper and lower extremities, status post open reduction and internal fixation and fusions; right knee quadriceplasty; arthroscopic debridement; left femoral head avascular necrosis; and post traumatic osteoarthritis.” (Tr. 24-25). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

Lift and/or carry up to 10 pounds frequently and up to 20 pounds occasionally; stand and/or walk for up to 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday; and sit for up to 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. He requires an ability to alternate between sitting and standing at least every 30 minutes. He should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and he should never balance, kneel, crouch, or crawl, but he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally stoop. He can frequently reach with his left extremity. He must avoid all environmental exposure to extreme cold, wetness (as it relates to weather conditions), excessive vibration, operational control of moving machinery, unprotected heights, and hazardous machinery.

(Tr. 26-32). Finally, the ALJ concluded: “[C]onsidering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.” (Tr. 34).

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision and submitted additional evidence to the SSA Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         II. Standard of Review

         A 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.” Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir. 2006)).

         “If, 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. 2001).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in (1) failing to properly weigh his treating physician's opinion; and (2) creating an RFC determination that did not include all of Plaintiff's limitations.[3](ECF No. 16). The Commissioner counters that the ALJ properly (1) evaluated the medical opinion evidence; and (2) formulated an RFC based on substantial evidence. (ECF No. 21).

         A. Treating ...

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