Richardson v. Astrue
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER- HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed with prejudice. A separate Judgment in accordance with this Memorandum and Order isentered this same date. Signed by District Judge Henry E. Autrey on 02/26/2014. (CLK)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
Case No. 4:12CV73 HEA
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial
review of the Commissioner's final decision denying Plaintiff’s application for a
Period of Disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., in which she claimed she was disabled
because of carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and
migraines. After a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Because the Court finds that the ALJ committed no
legal error and his decision was based on substantial evidence on the record 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).
whole, the decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff filed her application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits on July 9, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of January 15,
2007. On September 9, 2009, the Social Security Administration denied her claim
for benefits. Upon Plaintiff’s request, an administrative hearing was held before
an ALJ on April 23, 2010, at which Plaintiff, and a vocational expert testified. On
July 27, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff’s claim for benefits,
finding Plaintiff able to perform work in the national economy. On November 9,
2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ's
decision. The Appeals Counsel declined to review the remanded decision under
the exceptions ruled. The ALJ's determination thus stands as the final decision of
the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
In the instant action for judicial review, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred
in determining RFC by failing to find additional limitations supported by the
record, including more restricted use of the arms, limitations with concentration
and attention, and the need to lie down during the day. Further, Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ erred in failing properly to analyze Dr. Jones’s opinions or accord
them sufficient weight pursuant to the regulations.
Testimonial Evidence Before the ALJ
At the hearing on September 26, 2011, Plaintiff testified in response to
questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 49 years old she testified to having
carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as depression, anxiety panic attacks, and
migraines. She testified she can sit about an hour before needing to stand up and
that she cannot lift more than 5 pounds. Even with medication, Plaintiff testified
that she has breakthrough headaches. Plaintiff testified she has constant pain from
her elbow to her fingertips. She experiences a shock sensation when trying to grip
things or pick up something heavy. She constantly drops even light objects. She
wears wrist splints every day. She has difficulty sleeping, the pain wakes her up at
night. She has crying spells, as well as has panic attacks every day. Plaintiff has
A vocational expert also testified. In answer to the ALJ’s hypothetical
question, the VE testified that Plaintiff could perform light exertional work with
the limitations placed by the ALJ regarding pushing, pulling, lifting, handling that
is gross manipulation and fingering, fine manipulation, limited to frequent, not
constant. She should avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration and
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity
through August 2008, but not September 1, 2008. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of: history of carpal tunnel syndrome, depression/anxiety and
degenerative disc disease, but that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can
occasionally push/pull with the upper extremities, she can frequently (not
constantly) handle; she should avoid concentrated exposure to excessive vibration
and industrial hazards; and she is limited to performing only unskilled work. The
ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. The ALJ thus found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from January
15, 2007, through July 27, 2010.
To be eligible for supplemental security income under the Social Security
Act, Plaintiff 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a
five-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; 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 is not severe, then she is not disabled. The Commissioner then
determines whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R., Subpart P, Appendix 1. If so, the claimant is
conclusively disabled. At the fourth step, the Commissioner establishes whether the
claimant can perform her past relevant work. If the claimant can do so, she 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.
In cases involving mental impairments, the Commissioner undergoes an
additional evaluation process to determine the severity of such impairment(s). 20
C.F.R. § 416.920a. Specifically, the Commissioner rates the degree of functional
loss the claimant suffers as a result of the impairment in the areas of daily living;
social functioning; concentration, persistence or pace; and episodes of
decompensation. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(c)(3). If the mental impairment is found to
be severe, the Commissioner then determines if it meets or equals a listed mental
disorder. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a(d)(2). If the severe impairment does not meet or
equal a listed mental disorder, the Commissioner proceeds to perform an RFC
assessment. 20 C.F.R. § 416 .920a(d)(3).
The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed 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). This “substantial evidence test,”
however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the
Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir.2007)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record
as a whole ... requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks
and citations omitted).
To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review the entire
administrative record and consider:
1. The credibility findings made by the ALJ.
2. The plaintiff's vocational factors.
3. The medical evidence from treating and consulting physicians.
4. The plaintiff's subjective complaints relating to exertional and non-exertional
activities and impairments.
5. Any corroboration by third parties of the plaintiffs impairments.
6. The testimony of vocational experts when required which is based upon a proper
hypothetical question which sets forth the claimant's impairment.
Stewart v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 581, 585–86 (8th
Cir.1992) (internal citations omitted).
The Court must also consider any evidence that fairly detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Coleman, 498 F.3d at 770; Warburton v. Apfel, 188 F.3d
1047, 1050 (8th Cir.1999). However, even though two inconsistent conclusions
may be drawn from the evidence, the Commissioner's findings may still be
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at
1217 ( citing Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir.2000)). “[I]f there is
substantial evidence on the record as a whole, we must affirm the administrative
decision, even if the record could also have supported an opposite decision.”
Weikert v.. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 1249, 1252 (8th Cir.1992) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted); see also Jones ex rel. Morris v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 974, 977
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 his 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.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC does not comply with Social Security
Regulations because it does not contain a narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports each conclusion reached, i.e., a function by function assessment
of Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related activities. See Depover v. Barnhart,
349 F.3d 563, 565 (8th Cir.2003).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff’s complaints and
other limiting impairments, for example, the bulging disc in her neck. The ALJ
discussed Plaintiff’s work history and how it impacted on her credibility. Plaintiff
continued to engage in gainful employment after her alleged onset date. Likewise,
the collection of unemployment benefits undermines Plaintiff’s credibility of
disability since to collect unemployment benefits, one must be able to engage in
The ALJ considered Plaintiff’s medical treatment and her progress. Plaintiff
underwent bilateral carpal tunnel releases in April 2006 and May 2006. She
underwent a second right carpal tunnel release in September 2007. Thereafter,
Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity demonstrating that the surgeries
were effective in controlling her symptoms. See Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d
1057, 1066 (8th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff received conservative treatment for her neck
pain, and her migraines were controlled by medication. Plaintiff’s nerve
conduction studies and EMGs showed normal results. She exhibited full strength,
intact ranges of motion and intact sensation. Testing revealed grip strength
between 21 and 44 pounds and pinch strength between 8 and 13 pounds. There is
no medical evidence supporting Plaintiff’s allegations that she is incapable of
performing light work.
The Eighth Circuit has held that an ALJ does not fail in his duty to assess a
claimant's RFC merely because the ALJ does not explicitly address all functional
areas where it is clear he implicitly found the claimant not limited in those areas.
Depover, 349 F.3d at 567–68. An ALJ may base his RFC determination on all
evidence of record. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217–18 (8th Cir.2001)
(citing Anderson v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir.1995)). Social Security
Ruling 96–8p specifically requires that an RFC determination include “a narrative
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discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion.” Although an
RFC is a medical determination, in making this determination the ALJ must rely
not only on medical evidence but on all relevant, credible evidence. McKinney, 228
F.3d at 863.
Dr. Jones’ opinions and the weight given
The ALJ discussed the inconsistencies between Dr. Jones’ opinions and the
medical records. Dr. Jones limited Plaintiff because of difficulty interacting with
others. Contrarily, Plaintiff denied any problems following instructions.
Moreover, there is nothing in the record to substantiate this limitation. Likewise,
Plaintiffs treatment records indicate that Plaintiff has good grooming, logical and
coherent thought processes, good eye contact, normal speech, euthymic mood,
appropriate affect, normal memory, normal insight and good judgment, all in
contrast with Dr. Jones’ opinion that Plaintiff suffered form serious limitations. In
finding that Plaintiff could perform a range of unskilled, light work, the ALJ
properly considered the record as a whole, including Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints, and the reasons the ALJ discounted those complaints based on
Plaintiff’s allegations being not completely credible.
As discussed above, the medical evidence supports the ALJ's determination.
The ALJ thoroughly considered and discussed this evidence in rendering his
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decision. Overall, the ALJ's determination is both fully supported and sufficiently
explained. The Court upholds the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's RFC.
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff
was not under a disability since January 15, 2007, is affirmed. Because the
Commissioner committed no legal error and there is substantial evidence on the
record as a whole to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not
reverse the decision merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that
would have supported a contrary outcome or because another court might have
reached a different conclusion. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir.2001);
see also Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir.2011).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is
affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
A separate Judgment in accordance with this Memorandum and Order is
entered this same date.
Dated this 26th day of February, 2014.
HENRY EDWARD AUTREY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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