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Dodson v. Saul

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

September 17, 2019

KEVIN M. DODSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kevin Dodson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §1383 seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his claims for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, 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 September 3, 2015, the Social Security Administration denied Dodson's June 2015 application for SSI, in which he claimed he became disabled on January 1, 2012, because of his lower lumbar pain with radiation to the right lower extremity, a bulging disc, and difficulty sleeping due to pain. Dodson requested a hearing and the hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on April 18, 2017, at which Dodson and a vocational expert testified. On May 22, 2017, the ALJ denied Dodson's claims for benefits, finding the vocational expert's testimony to support a finding that Dodson could perform work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On February 15, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Dodson'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).

         Dodson contends that the ALJ erred in his consideration of Dodson's impairments because the ALJ failed to obtain a consultative medical examination and fully develop the record. Dodson also claims that the ALJ's finding that he can perform the light exertional job of assembler is erroneous because this job exceeds the maximum residual functional capacity (RFC) of a sedentary capacity. 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 Dodson's recitation of facts set forth in his Statement of Uncontroverted Facts and note that they are admitted by the Commissioner. (ECF 12-1; ECF 17). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Facts and note they are admitted by Dodson. (ECF 17-2; ECF 19). 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 SSI under the Social Security Act, Dodson 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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