United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
PHILLIP A. SEAVEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying the
application of Plaintiff Phillip A. Seavey
(“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., (the
“Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction
of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 16). Because I find substantial evidence
to support the decision denying benefits, I will affirm the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.
February 28, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that
he has been unable to work since Oct. 3, 2012. (Tr. 12). His
application was initially denied on April 19, 2013.
Id. Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. On
March 27, 2015, following a hearing, the ALJ found Plaintiff
was not under a “disability” as defined in the
Act. Id. Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of
Hearing Decision with the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council. (Doc. 34 at 1). On May
7, 2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the case.
Id. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
facts related to the issues raised by Plaintiff will be
addressed as needed in the discussion below.
Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A);
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 he 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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 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 Commissioner
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);
McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the
Commissioner 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); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Three, the Commissioner 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); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the
claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find
the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with
the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] 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). At Step Four, the Commissioner
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); 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 Commissioner 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.
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, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in
the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064
(8th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ's Decision
the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ here found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date, October 3, 2012; that Plaintiff
has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease,
hypertension, anxiety, depression, and degenerative joint
disease; and that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14-15). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), except that he can never
perform overhead work with the left upper extremity; can
perform frequent, but not constant, reaching or grasping with
the non-dominant left upper extremity; can only occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; would be limited to simple
routine tasks; can have only occasional contact with the
general public and coworkers; and can have only occasional
changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found
that Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant
work. (Tr. 23). However, relying on the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that
Plaintiff would be able to perform occupations including
housekeeping (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) No. 323.687-014, light exertion level,
unskilled, 371, 370 jobs in the national economy), routing
clerk (DOT No. 222.687-022, light exertion level, 74, 788
jobs in the national economy); and folding material operator
(DOT No. 208.685-014, light exertion level, 119, 960 jobs in
the national economy). (Tr. 24). The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the
Act, from October 3, 2012, through the date of his decision.
challenges the ALJ's decision on three grounds: (1) that
the ALJ's RFC finding is too vague to allow meaningful
review or to satisfy the specificity required by regulation
and policy, because the ALJ limited Plaintiff to “light
work” instead of conducting a function-by-function
analysis; (2) that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical
source opinions in assessing his physical RFC; and (3) that
the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical source opinions in
assessing his mental RFC.
Standard for Judicial Review
decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it complies
with the relevant legal requirements and is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3); Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Pate-Fires v.
Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009); Estes v.
Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Renstrom
v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1063 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Moore, 572 F.3d at 522). In determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, the court considers both evidence that supports
that decision and evidence that detracts from that decision.
Id. However, the 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 reasons and substantial evidence.'”
Id. at 1064 (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.
The RFC Limitation to ...