United States District Court, D. Nebraska
SARAH M. DIXON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
F. Rossiter, Jr. United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on plaintiff Sarah M. Dixon's
(“Dixon”) Motion for an Order Reversing the
Commissioner's Decision (Filing No. 14) seeking judicial
review of the final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), denying Dixon's claim for
benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq. and 1381 et seq. Having filed a
Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision (Filing No.
18), the Commissioner resists Dixon's motion. For the
reasons stated below, the Court affirms the
has been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis and
fibromyalgia. She was born on April 19, 1984, has a
high-school diploma, and has previously worked as a
customer-service representative and a telephone solicitor. On
January 20, 2015, Dixon protectively applied for disability
benefits and supplemental-security income, alleging a
disability beginning on September 26, 2013.
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Dixon's claims on September 4, 2015, and on
reconsideration on November 5, 2015. On Dixon's request,
an SSA Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted
a hearing on June 1, 2017, at which Dixon testified and was
represented by counsel.
The ALJ's Determination
the hearing, the ALJ undertook the familiar five-step
sequential process for determining disability. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. During that
process, the ALJ asks:
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether
the claimant is severely impaired; (3) whether the impairment
is or approximates an impairment listed in Appendix 1; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and, if
not, (5) whether the claimant can perform any other kind of
Hill v. Colvin, 753 F.3d 798, 800 (8th Cir. 2014).
found Dixon met the first two steps: she had not engaged in a
substantial gainful activity since the alleged
disability-onset date and she is severely impaired.
Specifically, the ALJ found Dixon “has the following
severe impairments: ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, and
obesity.” At Step Three, the ALJ determined Dixon's
impairment or combination of impairments do not meet or equal
any listing in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.925, and 416.926. The ALJ expressly considered Listing
1.04 for disorders of the spine and did not find that Dixon
has a spine disorder with the requisite characteristics to
meet or equal that listing.
next considered Dixon's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). The ALJ concluded Dixon could perform
sedentary work, see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with the “ability to shift
between sitting and standing every thirty minutes for one to
two minutes.” The ALJ further determined Dixon could
(1) “occasionally stoop, crouch, and climb ramps or
stairs, ” (2) occasionally rotate, flex, and extend her
neck, (3) “have no more than frequent exposure to
extreme heat or cold, ” (4) “never kneel, crawl,
or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, ” and (5)
“never be exposed to vibration or workplace
hazards” like unprotected heights or moving machinery
making the RFC finding, the ALJ considered (1) Dixon's
own reports about her symptoms, (2) documentation from
Dixon's mother supporting her symptoms, (3) Dixon's
activities, (4) findings from Dixon's treating and
consulting physicians, and (5) diagnostic studies. Based on
those considerations, the ALJ determined Dixon's
complaints about her symptoms were not entirely consistent
with her daily activities and the objective medical evidence.
Although a medical-source statement submitted by John Hurley,
M.D. (“Dr. Hurley”), one of Dixon's treating
physicians, supported some of Dixon's allegations, the
ALJ afforded less weight to parts of that statement as overly
vague and unsupported.
to Step Four, the ALJ determined Dixon could perform her past
relevant work as a customer-service representative and
telephone solicitor. Accordingly, the ALJ found Dixon is not
disabled as defined under the SSA. See §§
404.1520(f) and 416.920(f).
requests the Court reverse the ALJ's decision because she
believes the ALJ: (1) erred in evaluating “Ms.
Dixon's Fibromyalgia at Step 3 and while evaluating Ms.
Dixon's subjective complaints, ” (2) “failed
to provide good reasons for the weight afforded” to Dr.
Hurley's opinions, and (3) “was an inferior officer
not appointed in a constitutional manner.”
Standard of Review
Court will affirm an ALJ's decision “if it is
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole.” Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 614
(8th Cir. 2011); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the [ALJ's] conclusions.” Nash v.
Comm'r, 907 F.3d 1086, 1089 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting
Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir.
2007). The Court considers evidence that detracts from and
supports the ALJ's decision. Id. If the Court
“finds it is possible to draw two inconsistent
positions from the evidence and one of those positions
represents the ALJ's findings, the court must affirm the
ALJ's decision.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600
F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Heino v.
Astrue, 578 F.3d 873, 879 (8th Cir. 2009)).
Security Ruling 12-2p (“SSR 12-2p”), 77 Fed. Reg.
43640-01 (2012), explains how the SSA evaluates fibromyalgia
in the disability analysis. Dixon alleges the ALJ erred in
assessing her fibromyalgia claim by not following SSR 12-2p,
“leading to Step Three and credibility evaluation
errors.” Specifically, Dixon alleges remand is
warranted because the ALJ: (1) failed to evaluate her
fibromyalgia claim under SSR 12-2p and Listing 14.09D at Step
Three and (2) over-relied on the lack of ...