Williams v. Astrue
OPINION,MEMORANDUM AND ORDER-- IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is affirmed. A separate judgment in accordance with this Opinion, Memorandum and Order is entered this same date. Signed by District Judge Henry E. Autrey on 01/30/2014. (CLK)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,1
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 4:11CV1552 HEA
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s request for judicial review
under 28 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff’s
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §1381, et seq. On January 29, 2014, the Court held a
hearing on this matter and heard argument from counsel. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.
Facts and Background
Plaintiff was 52 years old at the time of the hearing. She was trained as a
Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on February 14, 2013.
Pursuant to Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Carolyn W. Colvin should be substituted
for Michael J. Astrue as the Defendant in this suit. No further action needs to be taken to continue this
suit by reason of the last sentence of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
cashier/checker and worked in that capacity for 16 years until August 11, 2009.
The ALJ found Plaintiff had the impairments of; osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity.
At the June 16, 2010, hearing, Plaintiff testified that she is 52 years old and
lives with her son. Plaintiff testified about having her son perform certain tasks
such as the laundry as it is difficult and painful to use the steps. She has had
surgery to the left knee in 2008. She cannot sit or stand too long as this causes
swelling and throbbing of the knee. She cannot work because of her hands and
knees as they get numb and give out. She can only walk about one half block
before needing to rest. Plaintiff testified she attained education through the
twelfth grade. Plaintiff had been a grocery cashier/checker prior to August 11,
A vocational expert also testified. The VE testified that Plaintiff could
perform work that is limited to light and semi-skilled work. She is able to perform
her past relevant work as it is generally performed in the national economy. The
VE testified there are cashier jobs in St. Louis that satisfy these requirements.
Plaintiff’s application for social security and supplemental security income
benefits under Titles II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1381, et seq., was denied on November 3, 2009 . On August 21, 2010, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision. On July 18, 2011, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision. Thus, the decision of the ALJ
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
Standard For Determining Disability
The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is “unable 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738
(8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be “of such severity that [the claimant] 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the
immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him,
or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an
individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a),
416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011)
(discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant is currently engaging in “substantial gainful activity”; if so, then he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe
impairment, which is “any impairment or combination of impairments which
significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c);
McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will
find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step
process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's “residual functional
capacity” (“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations.”
Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545
(a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ
determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by
comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the
claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f),
416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can
perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the
analysis proceeds to the next step. Id.. At Step Five, the ALJ considers the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the
claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is
disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a
significant number of jobs within the national economy. Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674
F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir.2012).
Applying the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ in this case determined
at Step One that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
August 11, 2009, the alleged onset date of disability. At Step Two, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis and obesity. At
Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or equaled in severity of any impairment
listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (20CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926(d).
Prior to Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had residual functional
capacity to perform light work except plaintiff should not climb stairs, ramps,
ropes, ladders, and scaffolds. She may occasionally crouch, and crawl, never
kneel, and should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and excessive
At Step Four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is able to perform past
relevant work as a cashier/checker and that it does not require performance of
work related activities precluded by her residual functional capacity.
The ALJ was not required to perform any analysis under Step Five as he
concluded Plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work.
Standard For Judicial Review
The Court’s role in reviewing the Commissioner’s decision is to determine
whether the decision “‘complies with the relevant legal requirements and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.’” Pate–Fires v. Astrue,
564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.2009) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 979, 981 (8th
Cir.2008)). “Substantial evidence is ‘less than preponderance, but enough that a
reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Renstrom
v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1063 (8th Cir.2012) (quoting Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d
520, 522 (8th Cir.2009)). In determining whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner’s decision, the Court considers both evidence that supports that
decision and evidence that detracts from that decision. Id. However, the court
“‘do[es] not reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, and [it] defer[s] to the
ALJ’s determinations regarding the credibility of testimony, as long as those
determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial evidence.’” Id.
(quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir.2006)). “If, after
reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to draw two inconsistent
positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the ALJ’s
findings, the court must affirm the ALJ’s decision.’” Partee v. Astrue, 638 F.3d
860, 863 (8th Cir.2011) (quoting Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th
Cir.2005)). The Court should disturb the administrative decision only if it falls
outside the available “zone of choice” of conclusions that a reasonable fact finder
could have reached. Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir.2006).
In her appeal of the Commissioner's decision, Plaintiff makes the following
arguments: (1) the decision fails to properly evaluate the obesity as it is a severe
impairment; (2) the RFC is conclusiory and does not contain any rationale or
reference to the supporting evidence as required by SSR 96-8p;
(3) the credibility determination was deficient.
RFC and Medical Evidence
A claimant's RFC is the most an individual can do despite the combined
effects of all of his or her credible limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. An
ALJ's RFC finding is based on all of the record evidence, including the claimant's
testimony regarding symptoms and limitations, the claimant's medical treatment
records, and the medical opinion evidence. See Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959,
969 (8th Cir.2010); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545; Social Security Ruling (SSR)
96–8p. An ALJ may discredit a claimant's subjective allegations of disabling
symptoms to the extent they are inconsistent with the overall record as a whole,
including: the objective medical evidence and medical opinion evidence; the
claimant's daily activities; the duration, frequency, and intensity of pain; dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of medications and medical treatment; and the
claimant's self-imposed restrictions. See Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322
(8th Cir.1984); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529; SSR 96–7p.
Here, the ALJ considered Plaintiffs impairments and did determine that
Plaintiff could perform light work and should not climb stairs, ramps, ropes,
ladders, and scaffolds. Further claimant can occasionally crouch and crawl, never
kneel and should avoid concentrated exposure to cold, unprotected heights, and
excessive vibration. She could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently, sit 6 hours in and 8 hour workday, and stand/walk 6 hours in an 8 hour
workday (TR. p.12)
The ALJ determined Plaintiff’s RFC based upon all of the relevant
evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians, and her
description of her limitations. As required by McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605 (8th
Cir. 2011); Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211 (8th Cir. 2001); and Anderson v.
Shalala, 51 F.3d. 777 (8th Cir. 1995), the ALJ articulated the basis for the weight
given the evidence of the record and concluded Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a
restricted range of light work (TR. p.12). In so finding, the ALJ considered the
entire record including Plaintiff’s complaints. He properly concluded there were
inconsistencies in her allegations in relation to the record as whole.
Plaintiff relies heavily upon Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir.
1984) in her assertion of deficiencies in the decision making process of the ALJ
relating to credibility. The Eighth Circuit has never ruled that the ALJ must
discuss every Polaski factor. The ALJ only needs to acknowledge and consider
those factors before discounting subjective complaints. Samons v. Apfel, 497 F.3d
813 (8th Cir. 2007); Strongson v. Barnhart, 361 F.3d 1066, 1072 (8th Cir. 2004).
Here, the ALJ properly weighed, considered, and applied the standards.
As to the issue of obesity, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ failed to properly
consider it in the discussion. To the contrary, the ALJ found it to be one of two
severe impairments and discussed it fully. Likewise, the medical evidence shows
that all of her physicians were aware of this condition but imposed no limitations
greater than identified by the ALJ (TR. p.14).
Plaintiff urges the ALJ though did not properly evaluate her credibility.
However, reviewing the submitted transcript reveals a different conclusion at
The ALJ decision that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work is
proper as based upon the record as a whole. The vocational expert testified that an
individual with Plaintiff’s limitations could perform her past relevant work as a
cashier/checker. Where an individual can so perform, she is not disabled. Wagner
v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 842, 853 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Jones v. Charter, 86 F.3d 823,
825 (8th Cir. 1996).
The ALJ’s findings were clearly based upon the record as a whole. The
ALJ summarized Plaintiff’s testimony regarding her limitations, the treatment
notes regarding her impairments, the medical opinions in the record, Plaintiff’s
representations in her report, and the ALJ’s specific credibility findings. The ALJ
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applied the proper standard to the facts before him and his determination of
Plaintiff’s RFC is supported by the record as a whole.
After careful review, the Court finds the ALJ’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The decision will be affirmed.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security is affirmed.
A separate judgment in accordance with this Opinion, Memorandum and
Order is entered this same date.
Dated this 30th day of January, 2014.
HENRY EDWARD AUTREY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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