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Swafford v. Saul

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

September 10, 2019

MICHAEL SWAFFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Michael Swafford's appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.S.C. § 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. 9.] 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 affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Issues for Review

         Swafford presents two issues for review. First, Swafford asserts that the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination is not supported by substantial evidence. Second, Swafford contends that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) failed to make a proper credibility determination. The Commissioner asserts 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. § 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). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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). 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). 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).

         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). 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).

         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

         Swafford's disability insurance benefits application lists the following impairments that that limit his ability to work: bilateral knee reconstruction, spinal fusion L4/L5/S1, depression, anxiety, hand numbness, and foot numbness. (Tr. 195.) Swafford worked as a carpenter for 15 years and suffered a workplace injury in February 2013. He last worked on April 4, 2013. (Tr. 196.) His alleged onset date of disability is February 28, 2013.

         Swafford's application for disability insurance benefits was denied and he requested a hearing before the administrative law judge. (Tr. 94-105, 115-16.) After the administrative hearing, the ALJ found that Swafford had the severe impairments of status/post spinal fusion with lumbar radiculopathy. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ also found that Swafford did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 16.) Next, the ALJ found that Swafford had the RFC to perform sedentary work, except that he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ also found that he could occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch, but never balance or crawl. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ also limited Swafford to occasional contact with the public. (Tr. 16.) Then, the ALJ found that Swafford was unable to perform his past relevant work, but there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. 21.) Therefore, the ALJ determined that Swafford had not been under a disability under the Social Security Act from February 28, 2013 through the date of the decision, June 15, 2016. (Tr. 22.)

         The Social Security Report regarding evaluation of symptoms in social security disability claims was superseded on March 16, 2016. See SSR 16-3P, 1996 WL 374186, Social Security Ruling 16-3p, Policy Interpretation Ruling Title II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of Individual Statements (July 2, 1996). Also, many Social Security regulations were amended effective March 27, 2017. Per 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.614, 404.1527, the Social Security Administration uses the regulations in effect at the time that this claim was filed.

         Residual ...


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