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Baucom v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Procedural History

         On December 15, 2014, Plaintiff Stephen Baucom filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. This claim was initially denied on May 6, 2015. Thereafter, Baucom filed a written request for hearing on May 11, 2015. Prior to the hearing, on July 5, 2016, Baucom protectively filed an application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Plaintiff alleged an amended onset date of December 30, 2013. Plaintiff alleged disability because of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hyperthyroidism NOS, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral Dupuytren's contracture, and depression.

         After a hearing, an ALJ denied Baucom's application on February 24, 2017. After the Appeals Council denied Baucom's request for review, Baucom filed a complaint in this Court.

         In this action for judicial review, Baucom contends that the ALJ erred in her consideration of his residual functional capacity (RFC) and by not according proper weight to certain medical evidence in this case. Plaintiff asks that I reverse the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter for further consideration. 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 Baucom's recitation of facts set forth in his Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (ECF No. 15-1) to the extent they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF No. 21-1).[1] I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts (ECF No. 21-2), as they are unrefuted by Baucom. Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         Legal Standards

         To be entitled to disability benefits, a claimant must prove that he is unable to perform any substantial gainful activity due to a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment that would either result in death or which has lasted or could be expected to last for at least twelve continuous months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D), (d)(1)(a). To determine whether claimants are disabled, the Commissioner evaluates their claims through five sequential steps. 20. C.F.R. § 404.1520; Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009) (describing the five-step process).

         Steps one through three requires that the claimant prove (1) he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) he suffers from a severe impairment, and (3) his disability meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iii). If the claimant does not suffer from a listed impairment or its equivalent, the Commissioner's analysis proceeds to steps four and five. Step four (4) requires the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant retains the RFC to perform his past relevant work . Id. at § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating he is no longer able to return to his past relevant work. Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. If the Commissioner determines the claimant cannot return to past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show the claimant retains the residual functioning capacity (RFC) to perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ is required to evaluate the credibility of a claimant's testimony, including the claimant's subjective complaints of pain. Holmstrom v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 715, 721 (8th Cir. 2001). In so doing, the ALJ is not permitted to ignore the claimant's testimony even if it is inconsistent with objective medical evidence. Basinger v. Heckler, 725 F.2d 1166, 1169 (8th Cir. 1984). After considering the claimant's testimony, the ALJ may disbelieve it if it is inconsistent with the record as a whole. Battles v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d 657, 660 (8th Cir. 1990). To properly evaluate the claimant's subjective complaints, the ALJ must consider the factors enumerated in Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984):

[The] claimant's prior work record, and observations by third parties and treating and examining physicians relating to such matters as: (1) the claimant's daily activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain; (3) precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medication; and (5) functional restrictions.

Id. at 1322. While the ALJ must consider the Polaski factors, she need not enumerate them specifically. Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). When the ALJ explicitly disbelieves the claimant's testimony and gives good reasons for such disbelief, a reviewing court will typically defer to the ALJ's finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696 (8th Cir. 2007). However, the ALJ retains the responsibility to develop the record fully and fairly in the ...

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