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Miller v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 16, 2014

RANDY L. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REMANDING CASE TO ALJ

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Randy L. Miller seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including a low intelligence quotient ("IQ"), status post colostomy and reversal, and leg amputation with prosthesis, but he retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a small products assembler, housekeeper, and office helper.

Because the record requires further clarification on whether Plaintiff meets the requirements of Listing 12.05, the Court REMANDS the case to the ALJ for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural Background

A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

Plaintiff filed his application for disability insurance benefits on August 3, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of June 16, 2010. The Commissioner denied his application, and Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing with an ALJ. On April 18, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Plaintiff appealed the denial to the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration, and on April 4, 2013, it denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Standard of Review

A federal court's review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

Analysis

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process.[1]

Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred at Steps Three and Four. With regard to Step Three, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erroneously concluded that he failed to meet the listing for intellectual disability. As for Step Four, Plaintiff posits the ALJ erred in formulating his RFC by: (1) improperly discounting his credibility, and (2) failing to include certain work-related limitations. Because the Court finds that the ALJ's Step Three analysis requires remand, it does not address Plaintiff's Step Four arguments.

A. The Court cannot conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's Step Three analysis.

Step Three requires an ALJ to analyze whether a claimant's severe impairments meet a disorder listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. p, app. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the ALJ answers in the affirmative, the claimant is deemed disabled and the sequential process ends. See id. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have terminated her evaluation at Step Three because the record evidence clearly demonstrates he meets the listing requirement for an intellectual disability.

Listing 12.05 provides the standards for an intellectual disability. To meet Listing 12.05, the claimant must satisfy the requirements in the introductory paragraph and one of the subsections, which range from A through D. See Maresh v. Barnhart, 438 F.3d 897, 899 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. p, app. 1, § 12.05). Plaintiff's primary argument on appeal is that he meets Listing 12.05C. This listing requires Plaintiff to demonstrate: "(1) a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70; (2) an onset of the impairment ...


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