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Flynn v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2018

MICHAEL FLYNN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Flynn brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 and 1383 seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, §§ 1381, et seq. Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the decision.

         Procedural History

         On September 8, 2014, the Social Security Administration denied Flynn's July 2014 applications for DIB and SSI, in which he claimed he became disabled on February 28, 2011, because of lower back pain, bilateral knee pain, neck pain, and bone spurs in the right arm. Flynn later amended his disability onset date to March 21, 2014. At Flynn's request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on March 18, 2016, at which Flynn testified. A vocational expert and medical expert later responded to interrogatories put to them by the ALJ. On August 4, 2016, the ALJ denied Flynn's claims for benefits, finding the vocational expert's opinion to support a finding that Flynn could perform work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On November 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Flynn's request for review of the ALJ's decision. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this action for judicial review, Flynn claims that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, arguing that the ALJ improperly discredited his subjective complaints and did not base the residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment on any medical evidence of record. Flynn also claims that the ALJ improperly relied on the vocational expert's opinion in finding him not disabled because the opinion was based on an improper hypothetical question and was inconsistent with the medical evidence and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).

         For the reasons that follow, the ALJ did not err in his determination.

         Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         Flynn's work history reports, earnings records, and hearing testimony show that Flynn worked doing various construction jobs as a union laborer through 2013. He worked again in July 2014 for one week as a furniture mover.

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt Flynn's recitation of facts set forth in his Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF #18) and as admitted by the Commissioner (ECF #23-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Facts (ECF #23-2), as they are unrefuted by Flynn. Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate description of the relevant record before the Court.

         Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act, Flynn must prove that he is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines disability as the “inability 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). An individual will be declared disabled “only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are 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.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The first three steps involve a determination as to whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether he has a severe impairment; and whether his severe impairments) meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. At Step 4 of the process, the ALJ must assess the claimant's RFC - that is, the most the claimant is able to do despite his physical and mental limitations, Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011) - and determine whether the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (RFC assessment occurs at fourth step of process). If the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the Commissioner continues to Step 5 and determines whether the claimant can perform other work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. If so, the claimant is found not to be disabled, and disability benefits are denied.

         The claimant bears the burden through Step 4 of the analysis. If he meets this burden and shows that he is unable to perform his past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step 5 to produce evidence demonstrating that the claimant has the RFC to perform other jobs in the national economy that exist in significant numbers and are consistent with his impairments and vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012). If the claimant has non-exertional impairments, such as pain or postural limitations, the Commissioner may satisfy her burden at Step 5 through the testimony of a vocational expert. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1219.

         I must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Jones, 619 F.3d at 968. Determining whether ...


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