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Twyford v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 3, 2019

Melvin Russell Twyford, Jr. Plaintiff- Appellant
Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: April 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - Jefferson City

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         Melvin Russell Twyford, Jr., appeals the district court's[1] judgment upholding the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") final decision to deny his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI"). Twyford asserts that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") findings at three steps of the five-step sequential evaluation process prescribed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) were not supported by substantial evidence.[2] We affirm.

         I. Background

         In late 2012, Twyford applied for disability insurance benefits and SSI, alleging he became disabled on September 10, 2011, due to degenerative disc disease, major depressive disorder, and chronic anxiety. Several months after applying, Twyford underwent a cervical laminoplasty.

         On March 10, 2015, the ALJ denied Twyford's applications. The ALJ found that Twyford had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, status post-laminectomy; depression; anxiety; and substance abuse disorder. At step three, the ALJ determined that these impairments did not meet or equal the severity of any of the listed impairments. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Twyford's physical "condition [did] not meet the requirements of Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) because [he] [did] not have evidence of nerve root compression, or spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication." Nor did "[t]he severity of [his] mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, . . . meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09." His mental impairments did not meet the "paragraph B" criteria because the impairments only caused mild restriction in activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in social functioning; moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation of extended duration.

         The ALJ determined that Twyford's "medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms" but that his statements "concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms [were] not entirely credible." The ALJ then found that Twyford had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the following exceptions:

[He] could occasionally climb ramps or stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He could not perform overhead reaching bilaterally. He should also avoid vibration and workplace hazards such as unprotected moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights. He would [be] able to understand, carry out and remember simple, routine and repetitive tasks involving only simple work-related decisions with few, if any, work place changes. He should not interact with the public but could be around co-workers throughout the day with only brief, incidental interaction with and no tandem tasks. He would be limited to work that is isolated, defined as having a supervisor check on work no more than occasionally.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Twyford's RFC prevented him from performing his past relevant work as a grounds worker.

         At step five, the ALJ, relying on a vocational expert's ("VE") testimony, found that Twyford was "capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy," such as a patching machine operator, linking machine operator, or garment sorter. Because Twyford could perform other work, he was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act.

         II. Discussion

         We review de novo the district court's decision affirming the denial of benefits. Nash v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 907 F.3d 1086, 1089 (8th Cir. 2018). We will affirm unless the Commissioner's findings "are unsupported by substantial evidence or result from an error of law." Id. "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusions." Id. (quoting Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007)). If we find that the record supports two inconsistent conclusions, we must affirm the Commissioner's choice between those ...

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