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Benckeser v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 19, 2018

JAMIE LLOYD BENCKESER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Jamie Benckeser (“Plaintiff”) petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of bipolar disorder, ADHD, history of intravenous methamphetamine abuse, and asthma, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a counter supply worker, meat checker, and trimmer.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed his applications on September 16, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2014. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on March 16, 2016, found Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

         A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Discussion

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ made three errors requiring remand of this case: (1) leaving unresolved an alleged conflict between the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”); (2) failing to support the RFC with substantial evidence; and (3) failing to assess the RFC on a function-by-function basis. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

         I. A significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.

         Plaintiff first argues the ALJ erred because he did not resolve a conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT as to the meat checker job.

         Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 00-4p requires the ALJ to “ask about any possible conflict” between VE evidence and “information provided in the DOT.” If there is an “apparent unresolved conflict” between VE testimony and the DOT, the ALJ must “elicit a reasonable explanation for the conflict” and “resolve the conflict by determining if the explanation given provides a basis for relying on the [VE] testimony.” 2000 WL 1898704, at *2-4 (Dec. 4, 2000). “If there is an unrecognized, unresolved, and unexplained conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT, the VE's testimony cannot ...


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