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Crawford v. Berryhill

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

March 25, 2019

GREGORY CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Gregory Crawford brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 and 1383 seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his claims for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the decision.

         Procedural History

         On April 13, 2015, the Social Security Administration denied Crawford's May 2013 application for DIB, in which he claimed he became disabled on December 22, 2014, because of his multiple sclerosis (MS). Crawford requested a hearing and the hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on February 2, 2017, at which Crawford and a vocational expert testified. On July 3, 2017, the ALJ denied Crawford's claims for benefits, finding the vocational expert's testimony to support a finding that Crawford could perform work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On January 31, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Crawford's request for review of the ALJ's decision. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this action for judicial review, Crawford contends that the ALJ erred in his consideration of his residual functional capacity (RFC) and failed to properly develop the record. Specifically, Crawford argues that the ALJ erred in his RFC assessment because he improperly discredited Crawford's subjective complaints and improperly relied on the medical expert's opinion, which Crawford contends was based on an incomplete review of the record. Crawford also claims that the ALJ improperly relied on the vocational expert's testimony in finding him not disabled because the hypothetical posed to the expert was based on the improperly assessed RFC. For the reasons that follow, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt Crawford's recitation of facts set forth in his Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and note that they are admitted by the Commissioner. (ECF 19; ECF 28-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Facts and note that they are unrefuted by Crawford. (ECF 28-2). 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' arguments.

         Discussion

          A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB under the Social Security Act, Crawford must prove that he is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines disability as the 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual will be declared disabled “only if [his] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [he] 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.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The first three steps involve a determination as to whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether he has a severe impairment; and whether his severe impairment(s) meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. At Step 4 of the process, the ALJ must assess the claimant's RFC - that is, the most the claimant is able to do despite his physical and mental limitations and determine whether the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work. Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011); Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (RFC assessment occurs at fourth step of process). If the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the Commissioner continues to Step 5 and determines whether the claimant can perform other work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. If so, the claimant is found not to be disabled, and disability benefits are denied.

         The claimant bears the burden through Step 4 of the analysis. If he meets this burden and shows that he is unable to perform his past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step 5 to produce evidence demonstrating that the claimant has the RFC to perform other jobs in the national economy that exist in significant numbers and are consistent with his impairments and vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012). If the claimant has non-exertional impairments, such as pain or postural limitations, the Commissioner may satisfy his burden at Step 5 through the testimony of a vocational expert. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1219.

         I must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Jones, 619 F.3d at 968. Determining whether there is substantial evidence requires scrutinizing analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007).

         I must consider evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision as well as any evidence that fairly detracts from the decision. McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010). If, after reviewing the entire record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions and the Commissioner has adopted one of those positions, I must affirm the Commissioner's decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). I may not reverse the ...


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