United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and the matter is ripe for judicial review. After carefully reviewing the record, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The decision of the Commission is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff was born in 1968 and has a high school education. He previously worked as a security guard and a gate guard. Plaintiff left his most recent job in June of 2003, which is when he alleges his disability began. Plaintiff filed an application for SSI in September of 2011, at the age of 43.
Plaintiff claims he suffers from the following physical conditions that limit his ability to work: obesity, asthma, gout, back pain, knee pain, cellulitis, and high blood pressure. Plaintiff is approximately 5 foot 11 inches tall and weighs around 600 pounds. He reported that he can independently handle his own personal care, financial matters, going out in public, and driving. He reported that he cares for his 81 year-old mother and pet(s), does laundry, prepares meals for his family three to four times per month, goes grocery shopping once per month, and regularly attends church. Plaintiff alleges his back and knee pain limit his ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, squat, bend, stoop, kneel, and climb stairs. He testified that he cannot sit for longer than one hour, stand for longer than 15 minutes, walk more than 100 yards without resting, or lift more than 50 pounds. He reported that he elevates his feet two to three hours per day.
Plaintiff's medical records reveal Plaintiff has been diagnosed with morbid obesity, hypertension, asthma, gout, cellulitis, degenerative joint disease of the knees, osteoarthritis of the knees and lower back, and sleep apnea. The records show Plaintiff's hypertension, asthma, gout, and cellulitis are effectively controlled with medication. Radiological testing reveals Plaintiff suffers from "[a]t least moderate right greater than left knee DJD[.]" Physical examinations indicate that Plaintiff sometimes walks with a limp/waddle but other times ambulates normally. Physical examination records further indicate that Plaintiff exhibits tenderness and a decreased range of motion in his knee/back at certain times but not other times. Plaintiff testified, consistent with his medical records, that he is not prescribed medication for his knee/back pain and his doctors have never recommended surgical procedures to alleviate his alleged pain.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments including morbid obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, and bilateral knee osteoarthritis. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity and found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that Plaintiff can "stand and walk for short distances up to 100 yards for a total of two hours in an eight-hour work day, cannot work from heights, must have asthma precautions, and is limited in crouching and crawling, [and] can occasionally perform other postural activities." The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a security guard and gate guard. The ALJ made an alternative finding that Plaintiff's impairments do not preclude him from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a ticket seller or telephone solicitor. Based upon these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act.
Judicial review of the Commissioner's decision in social security cases is limited to whether substantial evidence supports the findings of the Commissioner and whether the correct legal standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(1)(B)(ii)(3). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence and requires enough evidence to allow a reasonable person to find adequate support for the Commissioner's conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Freeman v. Apfel, 208 F.3d 687, 690 (8th Cir. 2000). This standard requires a court to consider both the evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision and the evidence that detracts from it. Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th Cir. 2008). That the reviewing court would come to a different conclusion is not a sufficient basis for reversal. Wiese v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 728, 730 (8th Cir. 2009). "If, after review, we find it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, we must affirm the denial of benefits." Id. (quoting Mapes v. Chater, 82 F.3d 259, 262 (8th Cir. 1996)).
In order to qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act and accompanying regulations, a claimant must prove that he is disabled. Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010). Disability is defined as "the inability to do 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 12 months." 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The Social Security Administration has established a five-step process for determining whether an individual is disabled. See id. at § 416.920(a). Here, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at steps three and four of that process.
1. ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff's impairments do not meet/equal a listing
At step three, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairments meet or medically equal one of the impairments described in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). Where the claimant's impairment(s) do not meet all of the specific criteria for a listed impairment, the claimant may nonetheless qualify for presumptive disability if he can show his impairment(s) are "at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment(s)." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a). "The claimant has the burden of proving that his impairment meets or equals a listing." Carlson v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2010).
For a claimant to prove his impairment(s) equal a listed impairment, the claimant "must present medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the one most similar listed impairment." Carlson v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 594 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 531 (1990)). In determining whether a claimant's impairment(s) medically equals a listed impairment, the Commissioner is required to "consider all the evidence of record about the impairment(s) and its relevant effects on the claimant." Gabbert v. Colvin, No. 4:12CV596 NCC, 2014 WL 1725832, at *19 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 30, 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(c)). The Commissioner must also consider "the opinion given by one or more medical or psychological consultants designated by the Commissioner." Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(c)); see also Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-6p, 61 Fed.Reg. 34, 466, 1996 WL 374180 (July 2, 1996) ("longstanding policy requires that the judgment of a physician... designated by the Commissioner on ...