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Fraley v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2019

DAVID U. FRALEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that Plaintiff is not disabled and thus not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1385, respectively. For the reasons set forth below the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II, and for SSI under Title XVI, on April 15, 2015. Plaintiff was born in 1980, reported an eighth grade education, and alleged disability beginning April 2, 2015. In his Disability Report, Plaintiff alleged disability due to seizures. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially. Following an administrative hearing on November 17, 2016, Plaintiff's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated March 22, 2017. On December 28, 2017, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019. She found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of April 2, 2015.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of seizure disorder, degenerative disc disease with lumbar radiculopathy, peripheral neuropathy, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ did not find Plaintiff had an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. In making this determination, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's seizure condition under the requirements of Listing 11.02, and Plaintiff's mental impairments under the requirements of Listings 12.04 and 12.06. In each case, the ALJ found that the requirements were not met.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can no more than occasionally climb stairs and ramps. He must avoid all exposure to work hazards such as unprotected heights and being around dangerous moving machinery. Plaintiff cannot drive as a primary job function. He must avoid being near fires or bodies of water (including bathing in the tub). Plaintiff can tolerate occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. He cannot tolerate any contact with the general public or any work completely alone. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments would not preclude him from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, those jobs including the light and unskilled jobs of electrical assembler, inspector/hand packager, and small parts assembler.

         With respect to his seizure disorder, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's subjective complaints were out of proportion to the objective medical evidence, and that Plaintiff's reported symptoms were not consistent with his willingness to follow his doctors' recommendations. For example, the ALJ noted that, despite his alleged seizure risk and concerns of injury during a seizure, Plaintiff admitted to chopping wood. He admitted to going fishing at the creek and going to parks, even though his doctors advised him to avoid bodies of water. Plaintiff also admitted to drinking alcohol even though he was advised by doctors that doing so lowered his seizure threshold.

         Standard of Review

         The standard of review here is limited to a determination of whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015). Substantial evidence is less than preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion. See id.

         The Court must consider evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision but cannot reverse the decision because substantial evidence also exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because it would have decided the case differently. See Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015). If the Court finds that the evidence supports two inconsistent positions and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The Eighth Circuit has stated that “[w]e defer heavily to the findings and conclusions of the Social Security Administration.” Id. (quoting Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010)).

         Standard for Determining Disability

         The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is “unable 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be “of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such ...

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