Cochran v. Astrue
ORDER. re 1 SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT filed by John L. Cochran. affirming decision of Commissioner. Signed on 2/12/2013 by Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth. (Bode, Kay)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
JOHN L. COCHRAN,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner,
Social Security Administration,
Plaintiff John L. Cochran seeks judicial review,1 of a final administrative decision
denying him disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. '' 401 et seq.
Section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. ' 405(g), provides for judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration under Title II. The parties= briefs are
fully submitted, and an oral argument was held on February 5, 2013. The complete facts and
arguments are presented in the parties= briefs and will not be repeated here.
Standard of Review
The Eighth Circuit has set forth the standard for the federal courts’ judicial review of
denial of benefits, as follows:
Our role on review is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence
is less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the Commissioner’s conclusion. In determining whether
existing evidence is substantial, we consider evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it. As long as
substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner’s decision, we may
not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because we would have decided the case
Baker v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 882, 892 (8th Cir. 2006).
With the consent of the parties, this case was assigned to the United States Magistrate
Judge, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. ' 636(c).
The claimant has the initial burden of establishing the existence of a disability as defined
by 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). See Roth v. Shalala, 45 F.3d 279, 282 (8th Cir. 1995). To meet the
statutory definition, "the claimant must show (1) that he has a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which will either last for at least twelve months or result in death, (2) that he
is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity, and (3) that this inability is the result of
his impairment." McMillian v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 215, 220 (8th Cir. 1983).
When reviewing the record to determine if there is substantial evidence to support the
administrative decision, the court considers the educational background, work history and
present age of the claimant; subjective complaints of pain or other impairments; claimant’s
description of physical activities and capabilities; the medical opinions given by treating and
examining physicians; the corroboration by third parties of claimant’s impairments; and the
testimony of vocational experts when based upon proper hypothetical questions that fairly set
forth the claimant’s impairments. McMillian, 697 F.2d at 221.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2010, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 10, 2010. Through his date last
insured, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic asthmatic
bronchitis; and obesity, Class I, with weight of 242 pounds at 5’11” for a body mass index (BMI)
of 33. The ALJ determined plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal a severity of
the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ went on to
determine that plaintiff, through date last insured, had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform sedentary work, but with some limitations to accommodate for his impairments.
Specifically as to plaintiff’s asthmatic bronchitis, the ALJ determined plaintiff should avoid
work in the presence of concentrated exposure to extreme heat, humidity, and wetness, and to
pulmonary irritants, including fumes, odors, dusts and gases. The ALJ found that while
plaintiff’s medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the
alleged symptoms, plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects
of his symptoms were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the RFC. The ALJ
noted lack of objective medical evidence to corroborate plaintiff’s allegations.
Based on the record as a whole, and the testimony of a vocational expert at the hearing,
the ALJ determined plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a security
manager. Accordingly, the ALJ determined plaintiff to not be disabled as defined by the Social
Security Act at any time from April 10, 2010, the alleged onset date, through December 31,
2010, the date last insured.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in assessing plaintiff’s credibility, failing to properly
consider third-party observations and information, and in determining plaintiff’s RFC and
capability of performing past relevant work.
Upon review, this Court finds the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial
evidence in the record.
The ALJ did not err in discounting plaintiff’s credibility. Deference to the ALJ’s
credibility findings is warranted because they are supported by good reasons and substantial
evidence, including the lack of objective medical evidence to corroborate plaintiff’s allegations
of disabling symptoms and the limited nature of the medical treatment he received during the
relevant time. See Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).
The ALJ did not err in consideration of third-party statements. As part of her discussion
of the evidence, the ALJ specifically considered the third-party reports completed by two of
plaintiff’s business associates, but found they failed to support a finding of disability. The ALJ
observed that these reports paralleled plaintiff’s own subjective complaints and were inconsistent
with the evidence of record, including the objective medical evidence in the record. The ALJ
further noted these persons both admitted they only saw plaintiff infrequently, and therefore,
their opinions as to plaintiff’s daily activities were largely speculation.
The ALJ did not err in determining plaintiff had an RFC to perform sedentary work. The
ALJ’s RFC determination is consistent with the record as a whole, including medical records for
the relevant period. See Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ is responsible
for determining RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of
treating physicians and others, and claimant’s own description of her limitations; RFC
determination must be supported by some medical evidence).
The ALJ did not err in determining plaintiff could do his past relevant work. With the
assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ properly compared plaintiff’s RFC assessment “with
the physical and mental demands of [the claimant’s] past relevant work” as a security manager.
Young v. Astrue, 702 F.3d 489, 491 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)). Plaintiff
contends the ALJ failed to discharge her duty because she failed to develop the record or make
explicit findings regarding the mental and physical demands of plaintiff’s past relevant work as a
security manager. “The ALJ may discharge this duty by referring to the specific job descriptions
in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) that are associated with the claimant’s past
work.” Id. Here, the ALJ referred to the DOT in her decision. Specifically, the ALJ had the
vocational expert summarize plaintiff’s past relevant work, and a determination was made that
plaintiff’s past relevant work falls under the DOT job description of security manager, a
sedentary exertion level job. Plaintiff’s attorney stipulated that this job is an accurate reflection
of the plaintiff’s past relevant work.
The ALJ went on to determine that a comparison of plaintiff’s RFC with the physical and
mental demands of security manager, showed that plaintiff was able to perform this work as
generally performed. This was affirmed by testimony from the vocational expert who testified
that an individual with the plaintiff’s age, education, work experience and RFC would be able to
perform the requirements of the security manager job. See Wagner v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 842,
853-54 (8th Cir. 2007) (an ALJ may properly elicit testimony from vocational expert in
evaluating a claimant’s capacity to perform past relevant work).
Finally, the ALJ did not err in excluding a step-5 analysis. Because the plaintiff failed to
carry his initial burden of showing he was unable to perform his past relevant work, the burden
did not shift to the Commissioner to produce evidence of other work existing in the national
economy that plaintiff could perform. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 404.1560(b); Stormo v.
Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004). If an individual can perform his past relevant work,
either as he actually performed the job or as it is generally performed in the national economy, he
is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 404.1560(b).
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusion that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act between April 10, 2010, his alleged disability onset date,
and December 31, 2010, his date last insured. 2
IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
Dated this 12th day of February, 2013, at Jefferson City, Missouri.
Matt J. Whitworth
MATT J. WHITWORTH
United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff’s arguments in support of this appeal were carefully and fully considered. Any
arguments that are not specifically discussed in this order have been considered and determined
to be without merit. This Court finds there is substantial evidence in the record to support the
decision of the ALJ.
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