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Luster v. Colvin

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

January 31, 2015

ROBERT LUSTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Robert Luster's ("Luster") applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, 1381 et seq.

I. Background

On March 9, 2011, Luster filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, 1381 et seq. (Tr. 132-144) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Luster's application on April 12, 2011. (Tr. 75-76) He filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on April 28, 2011. (Tr. 84-88) Following a hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on November 15, 2012, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 13-28) Luster requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 12) On November 27, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Luster's request for review. (Tr. 1-6) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

Luster filed this appeal on January 24, 2014. (Doc. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. 9) Luster filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint. (Doc. 15) The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. 20) Luster filed a Reply Brief. (Doc. 23)

II. Decision of the ALJ

The ALJ determined that Luster meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2011, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2009, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 18) The ALJ found Luster had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, medullary nephrocalcinosis and asthma but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.)

After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Luster has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, except that he should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature (heat) extremes, humidity, and lung irritants such as fumes, dusts and gases. (Tr. 19) The ALJ found Luster unable to perform any past relevant work, but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. (Tr. 24) Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate. (Tr. 25) Luster appeals, arguing a lack of substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision.

III. Administrative Record

The following is a summary of the relevant evidence before the ALJ.

A. Hearing Testimony

The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on July 2, 2012. The ALJ heard testimony from Luster and Robin Cook, Ph.D., a vocational expert. (Tr. 29-73)

1. Luster's testimony

Luster was 51 years old at the time of the hearing and living alone. (Tr. 35) His fiancee lives down the hall from him. (Tr. 35) He does not have a high school degree. (Tr. 44) He has been unable to maintain employment since he was hurt on the job in 1989. (Tr. 35)

Luster's counsel indicated Luster's health problems are degenerative disc disease, asthma, and medullary nephrocalcinosis. (Tr. 36) Luster experiences pain in his lower middle portion of his back. (Tr. 38) On a scale of 1 to 10, Luster rates his pain on average as a 4. (Id.) Pain pills and lying down makes his back feel better. (Id.) However, standing too long or doing too much walking makes it worse. (Id.) He reports being able to stand for 20 minutes to a half hour and being able to walk for about 15 minutes. (Tr. 39) He also indicates that he can only sit for 20 minutes to half an hour. (Tr. 38) After that, he has to stand to relieve the pressure. (Id.) He can carry a gallon of milk. (Tr. 39) He has slight difficulty bending forward. (Tr. 40) He also reports that his right side, in the front, swells when he does excessive walking. (Id.) He experiences this swelling daily. (Tr. 41) He has to lie down to make it go away. (Id.) He takes naps every day for about an hour, sometimes two. (Id.) He is unable to put on his own socks. (Id.)

Luster's counsel explained that medullary nephrocalcinosis involves excess calcium in the kidneys. (Tr. 37) He has trouble with his asthma when it is hot or humid. (Tr. 43) Pollen and dust also bothers his asthma. (Id.) At the time of the hearing, Luster had not smoked cigarettes for about a week. (Tr. 36)

He is unable to do any chores because of his pain. (Tr. 42) He sometimes is able to rinse out a dish but is not able to clean or mop the floors. (Tr. 41) He does not go to the grocery store. (Tr. 42) He leaves his ...


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