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Mais v. Colvin

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

September 26, 2016

RONALD W. MAIS, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Ronald W. Mais' (“Mais”) application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.

         I. Background

         On April 17, 2012, Mais filed his application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 120-123) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Mais' application on May 25, 2012. (Tr. 58-62) He filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on June 20, 2012. (Tr. 67-70) Following a hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on July 25, 2013 upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 10-30) The Appeals Council granted Mais' request for review and on March 11, 2015, after adopting the ALJ's findings and conclusions, found Mais was not disabled under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 1-8) Thus, the decision of the Appeals Council stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-7 (2000).

         Mais filed this appeal on April 27, 2015. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an answer on May 1, 2015. (Doc. No. 4) Mais filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint. (Doc. No. 15) The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. No. 18)

         II. Administrative Decisions

         A. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Mais last met the insured requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2011, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the entire period from his alleged onset date of July 1, 2011 through his date last insured of December 31, 2011. (Tr. 15) The ALJ found that Mais has the severe impairments of obesity, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and major depressive disorder, 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. (Tr. 15-16)

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Mais has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, stand or walk six hours out of an eight-hour work day, sit six hours out of an eight-hour work day, never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds and occasionally climb stairs and ramps, stoop, kneel, and crouch. (Tr. 18) The ALJ found Mais should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration, extreme cold, fumes, odors, dust, gases, and unprotected heights. (Tr. 18-19) The ALJ further found that Mais is able to understand, remember, and carry out at least simple instructions and non-detailed tasks. (Tr. 19) The ALJ found Mais unable to perform any past relevant work, but that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including cashier II and mail sorter. (Tr. 24-25) Thus, the ALJ found that a finding of “not disabled” was appropriate. (Tr. 26) Because the decision was unfavorable, the ALJ determined that an examination of whether Mais' alcohol or substance abuse was material was unnecessary. (Id.)

         B. Decision of the Appeals Council

         The Appeals Council (“Council”) adopted the ALJ's statements regarding the pertinent provisions of the Social Security Act, Social Security Administration Regulations, Social Security Rulings and Acquiescence Rulings, the issues in the case, and the evidentiary facts, as applicable. (Tr. 4) The Council also adopted the ALJ's findings or conclusions regarding whether Mais is disabled. (Id.) The Council agreed with the ALJ's findings under steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the sequential evaluation through December 31, 2011, and further adopted the findings through September 30, 2012. (Id.)

         The Council agreed with the ALJ that Mais has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2011. (Id.) Further, the Council agreed with the ALJ that Mais has severe impairments which do not meet or equal in severity an impairment in the Listings of Impairments, that he is not capable of performing past relevant work, but that there is a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he is capable of performing. (Tr. 4-5)

         The Council found Mais met the requirements for disability insured status through September 30, 2012 and that the period between December 31, 2011 and September 30, 2012 was previously un-adjudicated. (Tr. 5) After considering all of the evidence of record, the Council found there was no significant worsening in Mais' condition from December 31, 2011 to September 30, 2012. (Id.)

         The Council agreed with the ALJ's assessment of the medical opinions of Javed Qasim, M.D., William Sill, D.O., and Robert Holloway, M.D., noting “issues of timing, lack of objective support, opining outside one's field of expertise, contradictory daily activities, and reliance on subjective complaints in determining the weight assigned to these opinions.” (Id.) Based on these findings, the Council found Mais was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act from July 1, 2011, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2012, the date last insured. (Tr. 6)

         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 17, 2013 and heard testimony from Mais and Delores Gonzalez, a vocational expert.

         1.Mais' testimony

         Mais was fifty-three years old at the time of the hearing and held a master's degree in business. (Tr. 33) In 1998, he worked as a cook and later as an assistant manager for Lee's Chicken. (Tr. 34) There, he lifted as much as 75-80 pound bags of flour. (Id.) In 1999, Mais worked at Hollywood Motor Company as a used car salesman. (Id.) From 2000 to 2001, he worked as an assistant service manager at Heartland Automotive, an owner/operator of a Jiffy Lube franchise, a job which required lifting less than 10 pounds. (Tr. 34-35) From 2003 to 2004, Mais worked as a retail sales manager at Millbrook Distribution, a specialty food business. (Tr. 35) Mais reported no income from 2007 to 2009 as the result of a back injury and issues with depression. (Id.) In 2011, Mais reported working at a hobby store assisting customers with remote control vehicles and airplanes and replacement parts. (Tr. 35-37) At the time of hearing, Mais was working an average of 8 to 12 hours a week at the hobby shop, normally split between Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Tr. 37) It was his testimony that he was unable to work full time because of his back issues and a lack of energy. (Id.)

         Following an MRI in 2006, Mais was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his lower back by Dr. Stanley Martin. (Tr. 38) He received pain management injections from Dr. Ellis Taylor, at the recommendation of Dr. Martin. (Id.) Mais smokes about half a pack of cigarettes a day, but has transitioned to electronic cigarettes. (Tr. 39) Mais testified he saw Dr. Qasim for depression and anxiety that began in the early 2000's and received psychiatric care from Dr. Qasim every three to four months, at no expense, in order to receive updated medications. (Id.) Mais further testified he suffers from mood swings and low energy on a daily basis, and experiences difficulty interacting socially with people. (Tr. 40)

         With regard to sleep issues, Mais stated that sometimes he sleeps very well, but other times will have three-to-four-day periods of restless sleep. (Tr. 40-41) He reported using a CPAP machine, but stated that even with the use of the CPAP, he still has problems sleeping on an average of twice a week. (Tr. 41) Further, he stated that his neck and back pain affects his sleeping. (Id.) Mais testified he received surgery on his neck by Dr. Martin a few years prior. (Tr. 41-42) Mais further stated he did not receive x-rays ...

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