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Crow v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2019

BRADLEY CROW, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Bradley Crow's appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.SC. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 8.] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the transcript and medical evidence. Based on the following, the Court will reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand this action.

         Issue for Review

         Crow presents one error for review. Crow asserts that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to include a relevant limitation regarding Crow's ability to respond to usual work situations and changes in a routine work setting in the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The 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), 423(d)(1)(A).

         The 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 RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         Fourth, 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The 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. 2003).

         Discussion

         Crow's sole issue on appeal states that the ALJ erred by failing to include a limitation regarding his ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and changes in a routine work setting in the RFC determination. The RFC is defined as the most 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 sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis.[1] 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 others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his limitations. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217. An RFC determination made by an ALJ will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Cox, 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 opinion in the case record together with the rest of the relevant evidence in the record.” Heino v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 873, 879 (8th Cir. 2009); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(b), 416.927(b).

         Dr. Thomas J. Spencer's Psychological Evaluation and Medical Source Statement (Mental)

         The Social Security Administration hired Dr. Thomas J. Spencer, a licensed psychologist, to prepare a psychological evaluation and mental medical source statement regarding Crow. The evaluation occurred on May 6, 2016. (Tr. 525). Dr. Spencer reviewed Crow's mental health records, his allegations, and conducted an in-person interview. (Tr. 525.) Dr. Spencer prepared a written psychological evaluation and a medical source statement of ability to do work-related activities (mental). (Tr. 525-531.)

         During his interview, Crow reported to Dr. Spencer that he applied for benefits due to chronic back and ankle pain and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 527.) Crow stated that he had been clean from methamphetamine use for “maybe six months.” (Tr. 527.) Crow stated he had been involved in a motor vehicle accident, which resulted in a broken back and ankle. (Tr. 525.) Crow informed Dr. Spencer that he had been hospitalized two or three times, most recently with a suicide attempt two years prior to the interview. (Tr. 526.) Crow stated that he spent most of day at home watching TV and occasionally he goes to town. (Tr. 527.) Crow stated that his mind races and he cannot sleep, think straight, focus, or stay on task. (Tr. 526.) Crow also stated ...


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