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Markhart-Collier v. Saul

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

September 30, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Betsy Markhart-Collier brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying Markhart-Collier's application for supplemental security income and disability insurance. Because the Commissioner sufficiently considered plaintiff's subjective complaints, and the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Procedural History

         On April 22, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., and an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, pursuant to Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. [Tr., ECF Doc. No. 12, at 13] In both applications, plaintiff alleged November 8, 2013, as the onset date of her disability. [Id.]

         Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial consideration. [Id.] On March 31, 2016, and July 19, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and plaintiff conducted video hearings. [Id.] The ALJ also determined that the claimant was not disabled from the date of disability through the date of the ALJ's decision. [Id.] Plaintiff's subsequent appeal to the Appeals Council was denied. [Id.] Plaintiff has now sought judicial review.

         In this action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his determination of her residual functioning capacity (RFC) by failing to properly consider her subjective complaints. Plaintiff asks that I reverse the ALJ's final decision and remand the matter for further consideration.

         II. Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in her Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts [ECF Doc. No. 19, pp. 1-41] insofar as they are admitted by the Commissioner. I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts [ECF Doc. No. 28-2], as they are unrefuted by plaintiff. Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         III. Legal Standards

         To be entitled to disability benefits, a claimant must prove that she 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 require that the claimant prove (1) she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) she suffers from a severe impairment, and (3) her 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 requires the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant retains the RFC to perform her past relevant work (PRW). Id. at § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating she is no longer able to return to her PRW. Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. If the Commissioner determines the claimant cannot return to PRW, 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, prior to determining her RFC. 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:

[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.

739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). While the ALJ must consider the Polaski factors, he 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 his disbelief, a reviewing court will typically defer to the ALJ's finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696 (8th Cir. 2007). The ALJ retains the responsibility to develop the record fully and fairly in the ...

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