United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Hager brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole, I will affirm
the Commissioner's decision.
January 13, 2014, Hager filed an application for disability
insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq. (Tr. 148). He alleged an initial onset date
of January 10, 2014. (Tr. 149). Hager's application was
denied on initial consideration. (Tr. 159). He requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr.
163-164). Hager, accompanied by counsel, attended the first
hearing on February 11, 2016. (96-147). A second hearing was
conducted on August 16, 2016, to allow for additional
cross-examination of the vocational expert (VE). (Tr. 49-95).
The ALJ issued a decision denying Hager's application on
September 7, 2016. (Tr. 23-44). On October 16, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Hager's request for review. (Tr.
1). Hager filed the present appeal for judicial review,
arguing that: 1) the ALJ erred in failing to evaluate whether
Hager's fibromyalgia was equivalent to one of the listed
impairments in the Social Security Administration's
regulations; 2) the ALJ erred in rejecting the findings of
Hager's mental health provider, who had concluded that
Hager's mental condition was disabling; 3) the ALJ erred
in failing to consider all of the relevant evidence in
formulating Hager's residual functional capacity (RFC);
4) the ALJ erred in submitting an improperly-formed RFC
determination to the vocational expert (VE); 5) the ALJ erred
in relying on the VE's testimony because it lacked
sufficient foundation; and 6) the ALJ erred in deciding
Hager's case “against the weight of all of the
substantive evidence.” (Doc. 16 at 18-21, 21-27, 27-29,
29-30, 30, 31-32).
response, the Commissioner argues that 1) the ALJ properly
evaluated Hager's credibility, his subjective complaints,
and the applicability of his fibromyalgia to the Social
Security Administration's listings of impairments; 2) the
ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence of
record; and 3) the ALJ properly formulated Hager's RFC
and properly relied on the VE's testimony in reaching the
conclusion that Hager was not disabled. (Doc. 25 at 3-10,
reply, Hager argues that the medical evidence the ALJ used in
evaluating his subjective complaints of pain was inapposite
because such evidence is not suitable for assessing
fibromyalgia. (Doc. 26 at 1-2). Hager further argues that the
ALJ, in evaluating Hager's credibility, gave no weight to
the longitudinal record as a whole, including Hager's
work history and his efforts to seek treatment. (Id.
at 2-3). Hager argues that the Commissioner improperly
introduced evidence in her response detracting from
Hager's credibility because that evidence was not
explicitly mentioned by the ALJ in his opinion. (Id.
at 3-4). Hager also reiterates his arguments that his
fibromyalgia should have been evaluated as equivalent to a
listed impairment and that the ALJ's RFC determination
was not supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at
4-5, 6-7). Finally, Hager reiterates his argument that the
vocational expert's testimony was unreliable and lacked
sufficient foundation for admissibility. (Id. at
Case Management Order (CMO) issued December 11, 2017, I
instructed the parties to attach a statement of
uncontroverted material facts to their briefs. (Doc. 5). The
CMO specified that each fact was to be set forth in a
separately numbered paragraph and supported by citations to
the administrative transcript. (Id. at 1-2). Hager
has not complied. (Doc. 16). The Commissioner's response
indicates that he generally agrees with Hager's
recitation of facts, “but not to the many
characterizations found therein.” (Doc. 25-1).
the Commissioner's response and statement of additional
material facts as uncontroverted by Hager. (Doc. 25-2). These
statements provide a fair and accurate description of the
relevant record before me. I will highlight specific facts as
needed in addressing the parties' arguments.
first found that Hager had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity from his alleged onset date of January 10, 2014.
(Tr. 28). He also found that Hager suffers from the following
severe impairments: “inflammatory arthritis,
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine;
status post right tricep surgery; fibromyalgia; depression;
ADHD; and substance abuse disorder[.]” (Id.).
The ALJ found that this combination of severe impairments did
not equate to one of the listings denominated in 20 CFR 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1. (Tr. 29).
evaluating Hager's claims, the medical opinion evidence,
and the medical evidence of record, the ALJ determined that
Hager retained the residual functioning capacity (RFC) to:
[Perform] light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) that
includes being limited to frequent handling bilaterally;
frequent fingering bilaterally with items no smaller than the
size of a coin or button; simple, routine, repetitive tasks
and simple work related decisions; a work environment free of
fast-paced production requirements and few, if any, work
place changes; and no interaction with the public and only
occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.
(Tr. 31). Based on this RFC determination, the ALJ found that
Hager was no longer able to perform his past relevant work.
(Tr. 36). The ALJ consulted a vocational expert (VE) to
assess whether jobs within Hager's RFC existed in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 36-37). The
VE testified that Hager would be able to perform work as a
mail sorter, router, or night cleaner. (Tr. 37). She further
testified that 21, 797 mail sorter jobs, 53, 460 router jobs,
and 138, 073 night cleaner jobs existed in the national
economy. (Id.). The ALJ therefore determined that
Hager was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. (Tr. 38).
eligible for disability insurance benefits under the Social
Security Act, Hager 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An
individual will be declared disabled “only if [her]
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous
work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy[.]” 42 U.S.C.
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140-42 (1987). The Commissioner begins by deciding
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity. If the claimant is working, disability benefits are
denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Next, the
Commissioner decides whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, meaning that which significantly limits her
ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant's
impairment(s) is not severe, then she is not disabled. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). The Commissioner then determines whether
claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. If claimant's impairment(s) is equivalent to
one of the listed impairments, she is conclusively disabled.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). At the fourth step, the
Commissioner establishes whether the claimant can perform her
past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Finally, the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant is capable of performing any
other work in the economy. If not, the claimant is declared
disabled and becomes entitled to disability benefits. §
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); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724
(8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find
it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v.
Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). Determining
whether there is substantial evidence requires scrutinizing
analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th
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 must
“defer heavily to the findings and conclusions of the
Social Security Administration.” Wright v.
Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015) (internal
citation omitted). I may not reverse the Commissioner's
decision merely because substantial evidence could also
support a contrary outcome. McNamara, 590 F.3d at
evaluating evidence of pain or other subjective complaints,
the ALJ is never free to ignore the subjective testimony of
the claimant, even if it is uncorroborated by objective
medical evidence. Basinger v. Heckler, 725 F.2d
1166, 1169 (8th Cir. 1984). The ALJ may, however, disbelieve
a claimant's subjective complaints when they are
inconsistent with the record as a whole. See,
e.g., Battles v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d 657,
660 (8th Cir. 1990). In considering the subjective
complaints, the ALJ is required to consider the factors set
out by Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320
(8th Cir. 1984), which include:
[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)
Id. at 1322. When an ALJ explicitly finds that the
claimant's testimony is not credible and gives good
reasons for the findings, the court will usually defer to the
ALJ's finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687,
696 (8th Cir. 2007). However, the ALJ retains the
responsibility of developing a full and fair record in the