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Magness v. Saul

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

November 14, 2019

JUANITA MAGNESS, 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 Juanita Magness' appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 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. 7.] 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

         Magness asserts that the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ improperly weighed the opinion testimony of treating and examining physicians and failed to properly evaluate her credibility. 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. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 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), 416.920(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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). “In this substantial-evidence determination, the entire administrative record is considered but the evidence is not reweighed.” Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d. 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Discussion

         The ALJ found that Magness met the insured requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019 and that she has not engaged in in any substantial gainful activity since December 23, 2014, the alleged onset date of disability. Magness alleged disability due to osteoarthritis, sacroiliitis, high blood pressure, arthritis in the right knee, vision impairment, weight bearing joints in the knee, back problems in the lumbar spine, anemia, high cholesterol, irritive colon, and lupus. The ALJ held that Magness had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, sacroiliitis, obesity, osteoarthritis, and right knee meniscus tear. She found that Magness did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P of Appendix 1.

         Next, the ALJ determined that Magness had the RFC to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: (1) occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl; (2) never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (3) no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts; and (4) no positions that require the operation of a motor vehicle. Because of the limitations of the RFC, the ALJ found that Magness could not perform her past relevant work as a home nurse aide, nurse assistant, or production worker. Based on her age, education, work experience, and the RFC, the ALJ found that there were jobs in the national economy that Magness could perform as a hand assembler, table worker, and machine tender. Therefore, the ALJ found that Magness has not been under a disability from September 23, 2014 through the date of the decision.

         RFC Determination

         Magness contends that the RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence, because the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence and did not properly evaluate her credibility. The RFC is defined as what the claimant can do despite his or her limitations, and includes an assessment of physical abilities and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a), 416.945(a). The RFC is a function-by-function assessment of an individual's ability to do work related activities on a regular and continuing basis.[2] SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2, 1996). It is the ALJ's responsibility to determine the claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and the claimant's own descriptions of his limitations. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217. An RFC determination made by an ALJ will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Cox, 471 F.3d at 907.

         Medical Opinion Evidence

         Magness asserts that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinions of her treating physician Dr. Jarrod Drab and ...


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