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Sessums v. Berryhill

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

February 16, 2017

SCOTT SESSUMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.[1]

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE 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 the application of Scott Sessums ("Sessums") for disability insurance benefits.

         I. Background

         Sessums filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on May 24, 2012. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Sessums' application for benefits, and he filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The SSA granted Stewart's request and a hearing was held on May 1, 2014. The ALJ issued a written decision on August 12, 2014, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 9-26). Sessums filed a timely Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Sessums' Request for Review on September 25, 2015. (Tr. 1-4). The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Sessums filed this appeal on November 9, 2015. (ECF No. 1). Sessums filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint on February 8, 2016. (ECF No. 10). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on May 6, 2016. (ECF No. 16).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ found that Sessums had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumber spine with residuals of surgical open reduction and internal fixation and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 14). The ALJ, however, determined that Stewart did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 16). The ALJ found that Sessums had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except for lifting or carrying more than 10 pounds occasionally and less weight frequently; standing or walking more than 2 hours in an 8-hour workday; sitting more than 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling more than occasionally; and performing more than simple, routine, repetitive work. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found that Sessums had no past relevant work. (Tr. 19). The ALJ determined that, based on Sessums' RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. 20). Consequently, the ALJ found that Sessums was not disabled since May 24, 2012, the date the application was filed. (Tr. 20).

         III. Administrative Record

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

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Sessums testified on May 1, 2014, as follows:

         Sessums was 41 years old. (Tr. 33). He lives in Hornersville, Missouri. (Tr. 33). He finished ninth grade but never got a GED. (Tr. 33). He attended resource classes in seventh and eighth grades. (Tr. 33). He can read and write but he forgets most of what he reads. (Tr. 34). He had 2 back surgeries. (Tr. 34). On September 5, 2012, he had a fusion. Later, he had a screw removed and replaced from L5. (Tr. 34). He still has lower back pain and pain that runs from his back to both legs. (Tr. 34). He can stand or walk for a half an hour before he has to sit down. (Tr. 35). He has pain while sitting. (Tr. 35). He has to stand up or lie down after sitting for 15-20 minutes. (Tr. 35). He has pain while moving from side-to-side because it twists his back. (Tr. 35-36). In January 22, 2013, after his last surgery, the nurse told him to stay with his current restrictions. (Tr. 36). He wasn't supposed to lift anything 5-10 pounds; no bending, stooping, climbing. (Tr. 36). He was taking Percocet then. (Tr. 36). He currently takes some muscle relaxers, pain medications, and Xanax. (Tr. 37). The medication "throws [him] off balance" and makes him drowsy. (Tr. 37).

         On a typical day, Sessums has to lie down and rest or prop his feet up and rest. (Tr. 37). He constantly has to move to relieve pressure on his back. (Tr. 38).

         He takes Xanax for an anxiety disorder. (Tr. 38).

         Sessums can make small meals and can clean for 15-20 minutes at a time. (Tr. 38). He does not have a driver's license. (Tr. 39).

         Sessums would not be able to perform a sedentary job because he would not be able to perform the twisting. (Tr. 39).

         Sessums has problems with pain radiating down his legs. (Tr. 39). He is constantly in pain. (Tr. 40).

         He cannot afford physical therapy. He would go to physical therapy and go through pain management if he had medical benefits. (Tr. 40). The neurosurgeon told Sessums that pain management is the only thing that would help his condition. (Tr. 40).

         Sessums went to the Advanced Pain Center in Kennett before and after his surgery. (Tr. 41).

         Sessums' primary care doctor prescribed the Xanax and the pain medications. (Tr. 41). His primary care physician did not indicate that Sessums should see a mental health professional. (Tr. 42). Sessums no longer takes Percocet. He takes Tramadol, Xanax, a muscle relaxer, and blood pressure medicine.

         Sessums' longest employment was in 1998 at Emerson Electric in Kennett, Missouri as a machine operator. (Tr. 43-44). He carried lightweight items and stood the whole time. In 2006, Sessums performed temporary work for a gun cleaning service. (Tr. 44). He previously worked at a saw mill in Campbell, Missouri on and off from 2004-2005. (Tr. 45).

         Vocational expert Susan Shay testified as follows:

         The first hypothetical person would be the same age as Sessums, who was limited to light work activity; only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; and limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks. (Tr. 46). Such an individual could perform Sessums' past work as a light machine operator. (Tr. 45-46). This person also could perform work as a light housekeeper, light laundry worker, and light machine tending worker. (Tr. 46-47).

         The second hypothetical person is the same age, education and work experience. (Tr. 47). This second person is limited to sedentary work; limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks: can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. This person could not perform Sessums' past work, but he could work as a sedentary table worker, sedentary final assembly worker, and sedentary machine feeder. (Tr. 47-48).

         The third hypothetical person had the same limitations as the person in hypothetical number two, but also required up to three extra, unscheduled breaks, during an eight-hour day to lay down for up to 30 minutes. (Tr. 48). No jobs would be available for this person. (Tr. 48).

         If hypothetical persons numbers one and two could only occasionally reach with either arm then they would not be able to perform the jobs mentioned. If hypothetical persons numbers one and two would miss two days of work per month on a consistent basis, then they could not perform any of the jobs mentioned. (Tr. 48). If hypothetical persons numbers one and two were off-task 15 percent of the day due to the side effects of mediation and pain, then they would not be able to perform any of the jobs identified. (Tr. 49).

         B. ...


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