United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Horn (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the Social
Security Administration's (“SSA”) decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
beginning January 27, 2007.The Court has reviewed the
parties' briefs and the entire administrative record,
including the hearing transcript and the medical evidence.
For the reasons set forth below, the case is reversed and
Background and Procedural History
February 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (Tr.
138-41). Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled as of
January 27, 2007, as a result of: Type II diabetes;
hypertension; hyperlipidemia; gout; seizures; left bundle
branch block, angina, pacemaker; diabetic neuropathy;
hypothyroidism; depression; urinary frequency; and dizziness,
balance issues, and memory loss. (Tr. 174). The SSA denied
Plaintiff's claims, and she filed a timely request for a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 73-77, 84-85).
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on May 2, 2014. (Tr. 86-87, 32-60). In a
decision dated May 28, 2014, the ALJ applied the five-step
evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520 and found that Plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her
alleged onset date of January 27, 2007 through December 31,
2012, her date last insured. (Tr. 17-25). The ALJ determined
that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes with
neuropathy and heart disease, status post-pacemaker
placement, and the following non-severe impairments:
hypertension, obesity and hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism,
carpal tunnel syndrome, left hip degenerative joint disease,
sleep apnea, seizures, sciatica, dysuria, and depression.
reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and medical records, the
ALJ found that, through Plaintiff's date last insured,
she had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
“perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a) where the claimant lifted or carried 10 pounds
occasionally and five pounds frequently, stood or walked for
two of eight hours during the workday, and occasionally
climbed stairs.” (Tr. 22). Finally, the ALJ held that,
through the date last insured, Plaintiff retained the ability
to perform past relevant work as a collector and was
therefore “not under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, at any time from January 27, 2007, the
alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the dated last
insured[.]” (Tr. 24-25).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on July 22, 2015.
(Tr.1-4, 13). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the SSA's
final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07
Standard of Review
must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind might
find it adequate to support the conclusion.'”
Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996)
(quoting Boerst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th
Cir. 1993)). In determining whether the evidence is
substantial, a court considers evidence that both supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.
2009). However, a court “do[es] not reweigh the
evidence presented to the ALJ and [it] defer[s] to the
ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of
testimony, as long as those determinations are supported by
good reason and substantial evidence.” Renstrue v.
Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir.
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 Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that 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);
Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's
RFC determination because the ALJ erred in: (1) finding that
Plaintiff's sleep apnea was a non-severe impairment; and
(2) relying on the opinion of a non-doctor, single
decision-maker. (ECF No. 12). The Commissioner counters that:
(1) Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that her sleep apnea was
a severe impairment; and (2) substantial evidence supported
the RFC determination. (ECF No. 23).
first argues that the ALJ erred at step two of the sequential
evaluation when he failed to designate Plaintiff's sleep
apnea a severe impairment. In particular, Plaintiff asserts
that the ALJ improperly based his determination on one
doctor's note reporting improvement and overlooked
numerous later reports of continued fatigue. In response, the
Commissioner argues that the ...