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Delana v. Saul

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

January 15, 2020

SOUTHEAS SUSAN DELANA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Susan Delana brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), provide for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner. Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff was born in 1956 and alleged she became disabled beginning April 4, 2016, because of bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, sacroiliitis, an annular disc tear, bilateral degenerative joint disease, hypertension, hypothyroidism, history of cholecystectomy, hiatal hernia, and diverticulosis.[1]

         Plaintiff's application was initially denied on August 24, 2016. After a hearing before an ALJ on December 19, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on April 26, 2018. On December 3, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his assessment of her residual functional capacity (RFC) and in his determination of whether she could still perform her past relevant work at step 4 of the analysis. Plaintiff asks that I reverse the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter for further evaluation. 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 plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in her Statement of Material Facts (ECF #11-1) as they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF #16-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts (ECF #16-2), as they are admitted by plaintiff (ECF #17-1). 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 disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, plaintiff must prove that she 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. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         To 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. 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. 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. At the fourth step, the Commissioner establishes whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. Finally, the Commissioner evaluates various factors to determine 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.

         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); 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 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 Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence could also support a contrary outcome. McNamara, 590 F.3d at 610.

         When 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:

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.

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 non-adversarial ...


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