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Masters v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 10, 2014

DEBORAH MASTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 28 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §1381, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.

Facts and Background

Plaintiff was 52 years old at the time of the hearing. She was 49 years old as of the date of onset of February 10, 2009. She had training as an EMT, worked as a home health aide, and studied for CNA but did not complete the course work. She stopped working in February or March of 2009. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the impairments of: joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis, status post hip replacement, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, synouitis of the left ankle, retro-calcaneal bursitis of the right foot, plantar fasciitis, and achilles bursitis and tendonitis.

At the September 15, 2011, hearing, Plaintiff testified that she is married and lives with her husband. Plaintiff testified about having a GED and training as an EMT. She has worked as a home health aide and has studied to be a CNA but did not complete the course work. Plaintiff also had brief employment with a nursing home. Plaintiff stopped working in February of 2009. She testified she could no longer do heavy lifting, stooping, standing, or bending. This was occasioned, according to Plaintiff, by the flare ups of swelling and stiffness in her hands, wrists, and shoulders. Plaintiff also stated she has had a number of falls due to her knees locking up. Her condition worsened in 2011, and as of June 2011, she was prescribed a power wheelchair.

A vocational expert also testified. The VE testified, in relation to an onset date of June 1, 2011, that Plaintiff could perform work that is limited to sedentary work but no work involving climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; may occasionally knell, crouch, or crawl; may frequently push and pull; may occasionally perform fine finger manipulation and frequently perform gross finger manipulation; and avoid extremes in cold and wetness. The VE testified there are no jobs in St. Louis that satisfy these requirements. For the period prior to June 1, 2011, the vocational expert testified there were jobs in the St. Louis area that satisfied Plaintiff's RFC status for the period February 10, 2009, to June 1, 2011. In that regard the VE testified Plaintiff had the residual capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 4165.967(b) except should avoid climbing ropes, ladders, scaffolds; may occasionally kneel, crouch, or crawl; may frequently push or pull with her arms; may occasionally perform fine finger manipulation and frequently perform gross finger manipulation; and must avoid extremes of cold and wetness. Plaintiff's application for social security and supplemental security income benefits under Titles II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq., was denied on December 10, 2010. On October 17, 2011, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision concluding that plaintiff has been disabled beginning June 1, 2011. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

Standard For Determining Disability

The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is "unable 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] 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 the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs within the national economy. Id. ; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir.2012).

ALJ's Decision

Applying the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ in this case determined at Step One that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 10, 2009, the alleged onset date of disability. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease; rheumatoid arthritis, status post hip replacement, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; synovitis of the left ankle; retro-calcaneal bursitis of the right foot; plantar fasciitis; and achilles bursitis and tendonitis. At Step Three, the ALJ found since the alleged onset date of February 10, 2009 Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled in severity of any impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

Prior to Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff, prior to June 1, 2011, the date Plaintiff became disabled, she had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except avoiding climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; may occasionally kneel, crouch, or crawl; may frequently push and pull; may occasionally perform fine finger manipulation and frequently perform gross finder manipulation; and avoid extremes of cold and wetness. The ALJ also found that beginning June 1, 2011 the Plaintiff had the residual capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she should avoiding climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; may occasionally kneel, ...


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