United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
EDWARD G. BUEHLER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying his applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income. Because the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the
April 17, 2007, plaintiff filed applications for disability
insurance benefits pursuant to Title II, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq., and supplemental security
income pursuant to Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381
et seq. (Tr. 333, 341). He alleged an amended onset
date of March 20, 2007. (Tr. 331-40, 341-43, 274). Plaintiff
alleged he became disabled as of March 20, 2007, because of
arthritis in his hands, back and knees, chronic
epicondylitis, chronic right rotator cuff tendonitis,
recurrent knee cyst, plantar fasciitis, gastroesophageal
reflux disease, recurrent abscess and cellulitis, attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder.
applications were denied on initial consideration. (Tr.
147-49). After a hearing, ALJ James Steitz issued a decision
denying plaintiff's applications on October 28, 2008.
(Tr. 150-62). On October 13, 2010, the Appeals Council
granted plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 163-167).
The Appeals Council concluded that (1) ALJ Steitz'
determination of plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) was not consistent with the record and failed to
address plaintiff's physical and mental limitations, (2)
the ALJ failed to address a treating physician's medical
source opinion, (3) the ALJ failed to obtain testimony from a
vocational expert (VE), and (4) subsequent claims filed in
June 2009 needed to be combined with plaintiff's original
case. Accordingly, the Appeals Council remanded
plaintiff's case for further proceedings. (Id.)
remand, ALJ Victor Horton held administrative hearings on
February 2, 2011, and May 18, 2011. (Tr. 71-128, 38-70). ALJ
Horton denied plaintiff's applications on July 5, 2011;
this time, the Appeals Council denied review on October 16,
2013. (Tr. 11-37, 1-6). Plaintiff appealed to this Court for
judicial review. On March 30, 2015, United States District
Judge Carol E. Jackson remanded the case for further
proceedings, concluding that ALJ Horton erroneously
discounted the opinions of three examining physicians and
improperly assessed plaintiff's credibility. (Tr.
attended a fourth administrative hearing conducted by ALJ
Robin Barber on March 1, 2016. (Tr. 1088-1159). ALJ Barber
denied plaintiff's applications on February 16, 2017.
(Tr. 1063-1087). The Appeal's Council considered
plaintiff's written exceptions to the ALJ's decision,
but did not alter the decision. (Tr. 1051-61). Thus,
plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies, and the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ
erred in her consideration of his residual functional
capacity (RFC) and by according improper weight to certain
medical evidence in this case. Plaintiff asks that I reverse
the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter
for further evaluation or calculation of benefits. For the
reasons that follow, I will affirm the Commissioner's
Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ
respect to the medical records and other evidence of record,
I adopt plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in his
Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts (ECF #17) to the
extent they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF #22). I
also adopt the additional facts set forth in the
Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts
(ECF #22), as they are unrefuted by plaintiff. 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'
entitled to disability benefits, a claimant must prove that
he is unable to perform any substantial gainful activity due
to a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment
that would either result in death or which has lasted or
could be expected to last for at least twelve continuous
months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(D), (d)(1)(a). To
determine whether claimants are disabled, the Commissioner
evaluates their claims through five sequential steps. 20.
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564
F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009) (describing the five-step
one through three require that the claimant prove (1) he is
not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) he
suffers from a severe impairment, and (3) his disability
meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iii). If the claimant does not suffer from
a listed impairment or its equivalent, the Commissioner's
analysis proceeds to steps four and five. Step four requires
the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant retains the
RFC to perform his past relevant work (PRW). Id. at
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant bears the burden of
demonstrating he is no longer able to return to his PRW.
Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. If the Commissioner
determines the claimant cannot return to PRW, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show the claimant
retains the residual functioning capacity (RFC) to perform
other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
is required to evaluate the credibility of a claimant's
testimony, including the claimant's subjective complaints
of pain. Holmstrom v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 715, 721
(8th Cir. 2001). In so doing, the ALJ is not permitted to
ignore the claimant's testimony even if it is
inconsistent with objective medical evidence. Basinger v.
Heckler, 725 F.2d 1166, 1169 (8th Cir. 1984). After
considering the claimant's testimony, the ALJ may
disbelieve it if it is inconsistent with the record as a
whole. Battles v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d 657, 660 (8th
Cir. 1990). To properly evaluate the claimant's
subjective complaints, the ALJ must consider the factors
enumerated in Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th
[The] claimant's prior work record, and observations by
third parties and treating and examining physicians relating
to such matters as: (1) the claimant's daily activities;
(2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain; (3)
precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) dosage,
effectiveness and side effects of medication; and (5)
Id. at 1322. While the ALJ must consider the
Polaski factors, she need not enumerate them
specifically. Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 968
(8th Cir. 2010). When the ALJ explicitly disbelieves the
claimant's testimony and gives good reasons for such
disbelief, a reviewing court will typically defer to the
ALJ's finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687,
696 (8th Cir. 2007). However, the ALJ retains the
responsibility to develop the record fully and fairly in the
course of the non-adversarial administrative hearing.
Hildebrand v. Barnhart, 302 F.3d 836, 838 (8th Cir.
reviewing the ALJ's denial of Social Security disability
benefits, my role is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings comply with the relevant legal
requirements and are supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole. Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942.
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.”
Id. In determining whether the evidence is
substantial, I must consider evidence that both supports and
detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id.
As long as substantial evidence supports the decision, I may
not reverse it merely because substantial evidence exists in
the record that would support a contrary outcome or because I
would have decided the case differently. See Johnson v.