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Sloan v. Saul

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 12, 2019

Tammy Sloan, Plaintiff- Appellant,
v.
Andrew Saul, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant-Appellee.

          Submitted: April 17, 2019

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

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Tammy Sloan appeals the judgment of the district court[1] upholding the denial of her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. We affirm.

         Sloan injured her back in a work-related accident in October 1988. She eventually was diagnosed with discogenic low back pain. By December 1989, Sloan had achieved maximum medical improvement with a permanent partial disability of fifteen percent of her body as a whole.

         Sloan worked at Sam's Club from 1998 to March 2014, serving in various roles from stocker to phone attendant. Most recently, as a phone attendant, Sloan reviewed pending customer orders, checked on stock status, answered incoming calls and routed them to the appropriate coworker, printed and delivered reports for her managers, and "walked the merchandise floor once a week to keep updated on new merchandise." To resolve customer requests, she "sometimes" needed to retrieve items on the floor, which could require her to lift about twenty-five pounds.

         On July 3, 2014, Sloan applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, id. § 1382. She claimed a disability onset date of March 28, 2014. The Social Security Administration denied Sloan's application on initial review, and Sloan requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. The ALJ concluded that Sloan was not entitled to benefits, because she retained the residual functional capacity to perform her previous work as a receptionist.

         Applying the five-step disability evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the ALJ determined that Sloan was severely impaired by migraines, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, degenerative joint disease of the knees, obesity, diabetes mellitus, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and vertigo. But the ALJ did not find that any of these impairments, individually or in combination, qualified Sloan for benefits by meeting or medically equaling the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         The ALJ then considered Sloan's residual functional capacity-that is, the most that a claimant can do despite her limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The ALJ concluded that Sloan retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work, with certain limitations. Sloan could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, or kneel. Although she could frequently handle objects bilaterally, Sloan was to avoid extreme temperatures, excessive vibrations, pulmonary irritants, hazardous machinery, and unprotected heights.

         At step four of the sequential analysis, the ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert. After hearing Sloan describe her previous work at Sam's Club, the vocational expert remarked that Sloan's past work "looks like a composite job." Referring to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), he said that Sloan's activity consisted first of work as a "receptionist," but that aspects of her work also fell under the DOT's description of an "order filler" or a "stores laborer." See 1 Dictionary of Occupational Titles 237.367-038, at 207 (4th rev. ed. 1991) (receptionist); 2 id. 922.687-058, at 947 (stores laborer).

         The ALJ posed several hypothetical questions to the vocational expert, asking whether an individual with Sloan's impairments could perform her past duties as a phone attendant. The vocational expert opined that Sloan could not complete her job duties as previously performed, given the medium exertional requirements of the stores-laborer elements, but that Sloan could perform the duties of a receptionist, as defined in the DOT. Finding the vocational expert's testimony credible, the ALJ concluded that Sloan was capable of performing her past relevant work as a receptionist and deemed Sloan not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied review.

         Sloan filed an action in the district court, and the court upheld the ALJ's decision. Sloan appeals, and we review the district court's decision de novo. The Commissioner's decision must stand if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and not based on any legal error. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would accept it as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion. Chismarich v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978, 979 (8th Cir. 2018) (per curiam).

         Sloan's argument on appeal is that she lacks the capacity to perform her past relevant work. The ALJ concluded that she has the residual functional capacity to perform her prior work as a receptionist, but Sloan challenges this conclusion. At step four in the evaluation process, Sloan bears the burden to show that she cannot perform her past relevant work. Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008). If she can perform her past relevant work, either as she actually performed it or as the position is generally performed in the national ...


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