United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
FRANCES M. DIXON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision
denying Frances M. Dixon's application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income (SSI)
under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416,
423 et seq. Dixon alleged disability due to the
effects of car accidents, total blindness in the left eye,
fractured bone on the left side of the face, loss of hearing
in the left ear, and chronic severe headaches. (Tr. 181.) The
parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 10.]
case, Dixon asserts that the administrative law judge's
(ALJ) residual functional capacity (RFC) determination is not
supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner
contends that the RFC is supported by substantial evidence
and should be affirmed. For the following reasons, the Court
will affirm the ALJ's decision.
Standard of Review
Social Security Act defines disability as an “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 has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A),
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) uses a
five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking
disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(1), 416.920(a)(1). First, the
claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an
impairment or combination of impairments that significantly
limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities
and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third,
the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets
or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the
applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him
or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets
this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step
five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the
claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of
jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222
F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all
of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will
find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari,
274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the
decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v.
Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court
determines whether evidence is substantial by considering
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision
as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court
may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that
would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would
have decided the case differently. Id. If, after
reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one
of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding,
the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed.
Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir.
2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex
rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir.
contends that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence for the following reasons: (1) the RFC
is not based on any medical opinion, (2) the ALJ only relied
on the claimant's testimony rather than medical evidence
regarding her limitations, (3) the ALJ failed to cite to
medical evidence in support of the RFC limitations, and (4)
the RFC is conclusory. The ALJ found that Dixon had the
severe impairments of history of fracture of the left
zygomatic arch and compression deformity at the T11
vertebrae, degenerative disc disease at ¶ 4-C5 and
C5-C6; left eye blindness; prolonged median and ulnar motor
latencies bilaterally; obesity; and depressive disorder. (Tr.
15.) The ALJ determined Dixon had the RFC to perform light
with numerous additional limitations. (Tr. 17.) Her further
exertional limitations included lifting and carrying ten
pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. (Tr. 17.)
She could sit, stand, and walk for six hours out of an eight
hour workday, however she could only sit for one hour at a
time. After one hour of sitting, she requires an option to
change position and/or sit or stand at the workstation
without time off task or loss of productivity. She can only
stand and walk for fifteen minutes at a time each. After
fifteen minutes of standing and/or walking, she requires the
option to change position, sit, or stand at the workstation
without time off task or loss of productivity. She can
frequently use hand/arm controls and foot/leg controls, feel,
finger, handle objects, reach, and reach overhead. She may
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding, but may
frequently climb ramps and stairs. She can only occasionally
balance and stoop but may never kneel, crouch, or crawl. She
can only occasionally bend. She must avoid concentrated
exposure to chemicals, fumes, dust, dander, and mold. She
must avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, hazardous
machinery, and industrial vibrations. She is limited to
simple, repetitive, unskilled tasks, and may only frequently
interact with the public, supervisors, and coworkers. She
will be off-task eight percent of the workday with an eight
percent loss of productivity. She could be expected to take
full use of two standard fifteen minute breaks and a thirty
minute lunch period. In addition, she would miss one day per
month because of anxiety and panic.
is defined as what the claimant can do despite his or her
limitations, and includes an assessment of physical abilities
and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a),
416.945(a). The RFC is a function-by-function assessment of
an individual's ability to do work related activities on
a regular and continuing basis. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1
(July 2, 1996). It is the ALJ's responsibility to
determine the claimant's RFC based on all relevant
evidence, including medical records, observations of treating
physicians, and the claimant's own descriptions of his
limitations. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217. A RFC
determination made by an ALJ will be upheld if it is
supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Cox
v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d at 907. “[T]he ALJ is not
qualified to give a medical opinion but may rely on medical
evidence in the record.” Wilcockson v. Astrue,
540 F.3d 878, 881 (8th Cir. 2008). In making a disability
determination, the ALJ shall “always consider the
medical opinions in the case record together with the rest of
the relevant evidence in the record.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(b), 416.927(b); see also Heino v.
Astrue, 578 F.3d 873, 879 (8th Cir. 2009). The presence
of a medical disability or the requirement for treatment for
a disability alone does not make a person disabled. See
Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 807 (8th Cir. 2004)
(“That a claimant has medically-documented impairments
does not perforce result in a finding of disability.”)
on a careful review of the record, the Court finds that the
ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
evidence for the following reasons. First, the ALJ is not
required to have a medical opinion that exactly matches the
RFC determination. “Because a claimant's RFC is a
medical question, an ALJ's assessment of it must be
supported by some medical evidence of the claimant's
ability to function in the workplace.” Hensley v.
Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016). There is no
requirement, however, that a RFC finding be supported by a
specific medical opinion. Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932
(RFC affirmed without medical opinion evidence); Myers v.
Colvin, 721 F.3d 521, 527 (8th Cir. 2013) (same);
Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092-93 (8th Cir.
2012) (same). “In the absence of medical opinion
evidence, medical records prepared by the most relevant
treating physicians can provide affirmative medical evidence
supporting the ALJ's residual functional capacity
findings.” Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932 (citing
Johnson v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 995 (8th Cir.
2001)). If the medical record is adequately developed, the
ALJ is not required to seek additional information or order a
consultative examination. Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932
(citing KKC ex rel. Stoner v. Colvin, 818 F.3d 364,
372-73 (8th Cir. 2016)).
as stated above, the RFC is not based solely on medical
evidence. It is based on all of the evidence in the record,
including the claimant's own testimony at the
administrative hearing. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217.
Dixon complains that the ALJ had no medical evidence to
support the limitations even though the ALJ cited Dixon's
testimony and the medical record in explaining the RFC
limitations. The Court has not seen a case where the claimant
complains that the ALJ credited the claimant's own
testimony about her limitations, especially when there is no
medical evidence to contradict her testimony. For example,
the ALJ included the option to change positions based on
Dixon's testimony that she could only sit for one hour or
stand for fifteen minutes before it is painful and she needs
to change positions. (Tr. 41.) The ALJ is not required to
cite to every piece of evidence in the medical record.
Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932 (quoting Black v.
Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998)). The ALJ is
also allowed to make reasonable inferences from the medical
the ALJ specifically discussed the medical evidence that
Dixon now contends demonstrates greater limitations than
contained in the RFC. The ALJ ...