Stephen P. Chismarich Plaintiff- Appellant
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: January 11, 2018
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
SMITH, Chief Judge, MELLOY and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
P. Chismarich appeals the district court's judgment
affirming the Commissioner's denial of disability
benefits and dismissing his complaint under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). We affirm the judgment of the district court.
Chismarich alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, drug
and alcohol addiction, knee injury, learning disability, and
attention deficit disorder. At steps two and three of the
five-step sequential analysis, an ALJ determined Chismarich
suffered severe impairments that did not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520 (setting forth the sequential steps for analysis of
disability claims); id. Part 404, Subpart P,
App'x 1 (listing recognized impairments). The ALJ also
determined Chismarich suffered "moderate"
limitations in selected life activities. At steps four and
five, the ALJ determined Chismarich's Residual Functional
Capacity and concluded he could perform jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy, including work
as a cleaner, janitor, or mail clerk. The Appeals Council
denied Chismarich's request for review, and the ALJ's
decision became the Commissioner's final decision.
review de novo the district court's affirmance of a
denial of social security disability benefits. Fentress
v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016, 1019 (8th Cir. 2017).
"In reviewing the ALJ's decision, we examine whether
it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole and whether the ALJ made any legal errors."
Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 728 (8th Cir. 2016).
"We define 'substantial evidence' as 'less
than a preponderance but . . . enough that a reasonable mind
would find it adequate to support the conclusion.'"
Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010)
(omission in original) (quoting Kluesner v. Astrue,
607 F.3d 533, 536 (8th Cir. 2010)).
the record overwhelming supports the determination that
Chismarich is not disabled, and we find no legal error in the
ALJ's analysis. As a stay-at-home father married to a
physician, Chismarich cared for and transported his four
young children, performed housekeeping tasks, managed the
sale of the family's house, and negotiated with the
builders of a new house. The record demonstrates not only his
participation in these varied activities, but also his
ability to navigate the obvious stresses inherent in these
activities when compliant with his prescribed medications.
Chismarich, nevertheless, argues the ALJ made statements in
the step-two and three analyses that he characterizes as
inconsistent with the ALJ's step-four Residual Functional
Capacity determination. He argues specifically that the
"Psychiatric Review Technique" for the assessment
of alleged mental impairments in the analysis of severity, 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520a, must be consistent with the
ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity determinations. As a
general proposition, this assertion is unobjectionable and
correct. As a practical matter, however, the different steps
serve distinct purposes, the degrees of precision required at
each step differ, and our deferential standard of review
precludes us from labeling findings as inconsistent if they
can be harmonized. See Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d
881, 888 n.3 (8th Cir. 2006) ("Each step in the
disability determination entails a separate analysis and
steps two and three, the ALJ stated Chismarich had "some
difficulty remembering doctor's appointments." The
ALJ also noted that Chismarich "report[ed] he had
difficulty following written instructions[, ] . . . needed
help from others, and needed spoken instructions re-stated or
written down." The ALJ concluded Chismarich suffered
"moderate" impairments in the domains of (1) social
functioning, (2) activities of daily living, and (3)
concentration, persistence, or pace. Chismarich characterizes
these statements and findings as inconsistent with the
ALJ's step-four conclusion that he retained the Residual
Functional Capacity as follows:
able to understand, remember, and carry out at least simple
instructions and non-detailed tasks; can respond
appropriately to supervisors and co-workers in a task
oriented setting where contact with others is casual and
infrequent; can perform work at a normal pace without
production quotas; should not work in a setting which
includes constant, regular contact with the general public;
and should not perform work which includes more than
infrequent handling of customer complaints.
conclude there is nothing inconsistent with the ALJ's
separate analyses at the different steps in this case.
Moderate difficulties in the areas noted are consistent with
being able to understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions while performing non-detailed tasks. Moreover,
the ALJ's sparse but more specific statements as to
severity are also consistent with this Residual Functional
Capacity. For example, the conclusion that Chismarich had
difficulty remembering doctor's appointments must be read
in context. Here the record shows he missed or was late for
only a few appointments over the course of several years of
weekly appointments. Minor inconsistencies in wording or
phrasing do not rise to the level of reversible error.
See Lacroix, 465 F.3d at 888 (rejecting similar
allegations of inconsistencies).
core, Chismarich's argument mischaracterizes or
misperceives the nature of the courts' role in his case.
In conducting our limited and deferential review of the final
agency determination under the substantial-evidence standard,
we must view the record in the light most favorable to that
determination. Chismarich himself characterizes the ALJ's
step two and three determinations as "three generalized
moderate ratings." In the face of such determinations,
we must strive to harmonize ...