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Spangler v. Berryhill

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

February 12, 2019

TRAVIS CALDWELL SPANGLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Travis C. Spangler (“Plaintiff”) petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) determined Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform other work as a final assembler or lens inserter and was not disabled.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 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 application on April 6, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of December 21, 2013. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on October 30, 2017, found Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review on February 12, 2018. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         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 claims substantial evidence does not exist to find that Plaintiff's substance abuse was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. He also alleges the physical and mental limitations in his RFC are not supported by substantial evidence.

         I. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's substance disorder was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly analyze whether his substance abuse was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.

         If “alcohol or drug abuse is a ‘contributing factor material to the Commissioner's determination' of disability, the claimant is not entitled to benefits.” Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 888 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C)). To make that determination, the “ALJ must first determine if a claimant's symptoms, regardless of cause, constitute disability.” Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533, 537 (8th Cir. 2010). Only if the ALJ finds the claimant is disabled and evidence of substance abuse, then does the ALJ move to the next step, which is to determine whether the disability would exist in the absence of the substance abuse. Id. In other words, ...


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