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Hood v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Missouri, Southern Division

February 3, 2015

KIRK DOUGLAS HOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION

GREG KAY$, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

Plaintiff Kirk Douglas Hood seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s (“Commissioner”) decision denying 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 degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff nonetheless retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a counter clerk or furniture rental clerk.

Because the ALJ’s opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.

Procedural and Factual Background

A complete summary of the record is presented in the parties’ briefs and repeated here only to the extent necessary. Plaintiff filed the pending application on December 8, 2010. As amended, he claims a disability onset date of May 12, 2010, and a date of last insured of December 31, 2013. After the Commissioner denied his application, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On September 22, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review on November 15, 2013, 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’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 substantial evidence standard “presupposes a zone of choice within which the decisionmakers can go either way, without interference by the courts.” Baker v. Heckler, 730 F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984). Within that zone, the court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner’s findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010).

Discussion

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine 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 at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to include his fibromyalgia as a severe impairment at Step Two; and (2) rendering an RFC formulation that is inconsistent with the medical record at Step Four. These arguments are without merit.

I. Because the record does not indicate how Plaintiff’s fibromyalgia impaired his ability to work, the ALJ did not err in classifying it as non-severe.

In a separate proceeding, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) awarded Plaintiff disability benefits in connection with his fibromyalgia. R. at 213, 528, 530, 531, 533, 534, 535. The record does not contain much discussion of the fibromyalgia. Plaintiff indicates that a doctor at a VA hospital gave him this diagnosis. R. at 208, 543. The VA’s medical records appear to contain only two references to fibromyalgia: “Fibromyalgia stable, ” and “Will get an early return appointment to review dx of fibromyalgia and discuss further.”[2] R. at 538, 544.

The ALJ did not list fibromyalgia as a severe impairment at Step Two. R. at 15. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to do so.

Before the ALJ classifies an ailment as a “severe” or “non-severe” impairment, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a), she must first determine that the ailment at issue actually is an “impairment.” An “impairment must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” Id. § 404.1508. That medical evidence must consist of “signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the claimant’s] statement of symptoms.” Id. For fibromyalgia specifically, a physician must have diagnosed the ...


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