Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Doyle v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

August 22, 2019

RONALD DEAN DOYLE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          LEONARD T. STRAND, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ronald Dean Doyle seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for disability income benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34 (the Act). Doyle contends that the administrative record (AR) does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled during the relevant period. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Doyle was born in 1963. He completed high school and has previously worked in building and ground maintenance and as a production laborer. AR 71, 214. He filed his application for DIB on October 23, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of January 24, 2014, due to chronic edema[2] resulting in right leg pain, chronic tinnitus, [3] insomnia, loss of hearing in left ear, chronic headaches, his right leg being shorter than the left and high blood pressure. Id. at 92. Doyle's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. at 91-121. He then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJ Robert A. Kelly conducted an in-person hearing on May 1, 2017. Id. at 63-90. Doyle and a vocational expert (VE) testified. The ALJ issued a decision on June 7, 2017. Id. at 42-58. He determined that Doyle was unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at 56. However, he determined that there was other work available in significant numbers in the national economy that Doyle could perform, such as non-government mail clerk, office helper and photocopy machine operator. Id. at 57.

         Doyle sought review by the Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence, which the Appeals Council made part of the record. Id. at 1-7. It denied review on April 10, 2018. Id. at 44. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. On June 7, 2018, Doyle filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and his complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. The parties have submitted a stipulation of facts and briefed the issues. See Doc. Nos. 12, 13, 15, 16. The matter is now fully submitted.

         II. DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF

         A disability is defined 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. An individual has a disability when, due to his physical or mental impairments, 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 significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). If the claimant is able to do work which exists in the national economy but is unemployed because of inability to get work, lack of opportunities in the local area, economic conditions, employer hiring practices or other factors, the ALJ will still find the claimant not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(c)(1)-(8).

         To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Act, the Commissioner follows the five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the regulations. Id. § 404.1520; see Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial” work activity involves physical or mental activities. “Gainful” activity is work done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a).

         Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the Commissioner looks to the severity of the claimant's physical and medical impairments. If the impairments are not severe, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment is not severe if “it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707.

         The ability to do basic work activities is defined as having “the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). These abilities and aptitudes include (1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying or handling; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing and speaking; (3) understanding, carrying out and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and (6) dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Id. § 404.1521(b)(1)-(6); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987).

         Third, if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Commissioner will determine its medical severity. If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled regardless of age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d); see Kelley v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).

         Fourth, if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments, then the Commissioner will assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and the demands of his past relevant work. If the claimant cannot do his past relevant work then he is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4). Past relevant work is any work the claimant has done within the past 15 years of his application that was substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how to do it. Id. § 404.1560(b)(1). “RFC is a medical question defined wholly in terms of the claimant's physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other words, what the claimant can still do despite his or her physical or mental limitations.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted); See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. Id. § 404.145(a)(3). The claimant is responsible for providing the evidence the Commissioner will use to determine the RFC. Id. If a claimant retains enough RFC to perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).

         Fifth, if the claimant's RFC as determined in Step Four will not allow the claimant to perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show there is other work the claimant can do, given the claimant's RFC, age, education and work experience. Id. §§ 404.1512(f), 404.1520(a)(4)(v). The Commissioner must show not only that the claimant's RFC will allow him to make the adjustment to other work, but also that other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. Id. At step five, the Commissioner has the responsibility of developing the claimant's complete medical history before making a determination about the existence of a disability. Id. § 404.145(a)(3). The burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).

         If after these five steps the ALJ has determined the claimant is disabled but there is medical evidence of substance use disorders, the ALJ must decide if that substance use is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C). The ALJ must then evaluate the extent of the claimant's limitations without the substance use. Id. If the limitations would not be disabling, then the disorder is a contributing factor material to determining disability and the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535.

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 24, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic venous insufficiency, obesity, a mood disorder, and a generalized anxiety disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can sit for two hours in an eight-hour workday. He can stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can balance, climb ramps or stairs, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl occasionally. The claimant cannot work in environments with concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, or humidity. The claimant can perform only simple, routine, repetitive work with no more than occasional changes in the general nature of the work setting or work tasks. He can maintain focus, attention and concentration for only up to two hours at a time. He can interact with the public only frequently.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on July 27, 1963, and he was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).

AR 44-57.

         IV. THE SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE STANDARD

         The Commissioner's decision must be affirmed “if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.” Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 577 (8th Cir. 2006); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lewis, 353 F.3d at 645. The Eighth Circuit explains the standard as “something less than the weight of the evidence and [that] allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.” Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994).

         In determining whether the Commissioner's decision meets this standard, the court considers “all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the evidence.” Wester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005). The court considers both evidence which supports the Commissioner's decision and evidence that detracts from it. Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533, 536 (8th Cir. 2010). The court must “search the record for evidence contradicting the [Commissioner's] decision and give that evidence appropriate weight when determining whether the overall evidence in support is substantial.” Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Cline v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 560, 564 (8th Cir. 1991)).

         In evaluating the evidence in an appeal of a denial of benefits, the court must apply a balancing test to assess any contradictory evidence. Sobania v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 879 F.2d 441, 444 (8th Cir. 1989). The court, however, does not “reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, ” Baldwin, 349 F.3d at 555 (citing Bates v. Chater, 54 F.3d 529, 532 (8th Cir. 1995)), or “review the factual record de novo.” Roe v. Chater, 92 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 188 (8th Cir. 1994)). Instead, if, after reviewing the evidence, the court finds it “possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, [the court] must affirm the [Commissioner's] denial of benefits.” Kluesner, 607 F.3d at 536 (quoting Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008)). This is true even in cases where the court “might have weighed the evidence differently.” Culbertson, 30 F.3d at 939 (quoting Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 1992)). The court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984); see Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2005) (“[A]n administrative decision is not subject to reversal simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.”).

         V. DISCUSSION

         Doyle argues the ALJ made the following errors:

1. The RFC is not supported by the record
2. The ALJ's hypothetical question to the VE was incomplete
3. The ALJ should have credited Doyle's subjective allegations and the opinions of the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.