United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
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 application for Supplemental Security Income, (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.
Facts and Background
Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits under Title XVI on March 9, 2009. The application was denied at the initial determination level by the Social Security Administration on the grounds that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Act. Plaintiff filed a subsequent application for supplemental security income on April 29, 2011. This application was initially denied on July 13, 2011. A hearing was held on August 15, 2012, and on September 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a final decision denying Plaintiff's claims.
Plaintiff was 53 years old at the time of this hearing. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of asthma or mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sciatica and a lipoma of the back, hypertension, and gastroesophageal reflux disease controlled by medication. The ALJ found, however that Plaintiff did not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled in severity the requirements of any impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4.
At the August 15, 2012 hearing, Plaintiff testified that he had completed eighth grade, and attended part of ninth grade. He testified he can read and write. Plaintiff testified that he was shot in his right leg in 2006, just below the knee, and that the bullet was still lodged in his leg. He said he has constant pain in that leg, that his knee swelled during cold or damp weather, and that every day he used a cane that a doctor had prescribed. He also testified that he had a sciatic nerve problem and a lipoma in the right side of his back that caused pain in the back and a constant ache in his right arm that prevented him from raising his arm above his shoulder. Plaintiff testified that he used prescription pain medicine and a Licoderm patch to treat his pain. He also took medication for acid reflux. Plaintiff admitted to using cocaine and heroin, but testified that he had not done so since 2008 or He had trouble walking very far and had to take breaks. He quit smoking when he was told he had asthma. He becomes exhausted easily.
On September 28, 2012, the ALJ entered his decision and findings denying the claim for benefits. Plaintiff requested review by the appeals council and review was denied on August 14, 2013. 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).
The ALJ utilized the five-step analysis as required in these cases. Here the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 20, 2009, the alleged onset date. The ALJ found at Step Two that Plaintiff has the severe impairment of asthma or mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sciatica and a ...