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Junte v. Colvin

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

October 17, 2014

DONNA JUNTE for, MICHAEL G. JUNTE, Deceased Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review, under 28 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.

Facts and Background

At the time of the alleged onset of disability Plaintiff was 59 years old. He had a twelfth grade education and work experience as a sheet metal worker. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: degenerative disk disease and peripheral artery disease as they caused more than a minimal interference with daily activities. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work. The ALJ further found Plaintif was capable of performing past relevant work as a sheet metal assembler. At the October 27, 2009 hearing, the wife of the Plaintiff testified. The death of the Plaintiff preceded the hearing. There was testimony they had been married some 41 and one half years. She testified her husband had been employed by McDonnell Douglas/Boeing Aircraft from 1973 through September 30, 2006 doing sheet metal work. While in that capacity he had to lift up to 100 pounds from time to time. He was on his feet all the time and upon his retirement in 2006 he had difficulty walking and standing. He also complained of pain in his legs. She testified he would sit down from time to time to relieve the discomfort and rub his legs. In addition he could only be on his feet for about 10 minutes before he would have to sit down and sit only 30 minutes before he would have to stand. He would also elevate his legs, in the morning and in the evening, to relieve the discomfort. There was also testimony from a friend who stated he and Plaintiff fished every weekend until Plaintiff had problems walking, sitting ans standing. Plaintiff stopped fishing and hunting because he could not walk over 100 yards without experiencing leg, back pain, or foot pain.

Issue Statement

The general issues in a Social Security case are whether the final decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The issues here are limited. There are two issues raised by Plaintiff. One is whether the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiffs' residual functional capacity (RFC) and finding he could perform his past relevant work at step four of the sequential evaluation process. The second issue is whether the ALJ properly considered the alleged onset date.

Standard of Review

This Court is limited in its review. The Court may merely determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate in support of the Commissioner's conclusion. See Juszczyk v. Astrue, 542 F.3d 626, 631 (8th Cir. 2008). The court must consider evidence that both supports and detracts from the decision. An administrative decision is not subject to reversal, however, simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion. See Finch, 547 F.3d at 935. A court should disturb the ALJ's decision only if it falls outside the available "zone of choice;" a decision is not outside the zone of choice simply because the court may have reached a different conclusion had the court been the finder of fact in the first instance. See Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011), McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010) (If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the court "may not reverse, even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, and [the court] may have reached a different outcome"). A court should "defer heavily to the findings and conclusions of the Social Security Administration." Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir. 2001)). "If, after reviewing the record, 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.'" Partee v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir.2011) (quoting Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir.2005)). The Court should disturb the administrative decision only if it falls outside the available "zone of choice" of conclusions that a reasonable fact finder could have reached. Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir.2006).

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©, 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920©; 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 Decision

The ALJ utilized the five-step analysis as required in this case. A detailed discussion or recitation of the Opinion of the ALJ will therefore not be utilized here as the Plaintiff only takes issue with the ALJ decision as to step four and the conclusion as to the date of onset.

At Step Four it was the finding of the ALJ that Plaintiff could perform the full range of medium work. The Commissioner earlier found Plaintiff disabled based on his terminal cancer beginning on February 1, 2008. (Tr. 11, 26-27). The only issue, therefore, in this case is whether Plaintiff was disabled beginning on September 30, 2006, based on other impairments. Plaintiff failed to demonstrate an earlier onset period as he did not provide evidence demonstrating disability. ...

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