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Mattison v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.



         This is an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the application of Jackie Mattison (“Plaintiff” or “Mattison”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint (Doc. No. 12) as well as a reply brief (Doc. No. 18). Defendant has filed both a brief in support of the Answer (Doc. No. 17) and a sur-reply brief (Doc. No. 21). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Doc. No. 7).

         Plaintiff is a 36 year-old male who, at the time of the hearing in this matter, resided in a house with his mother and grandmother in Summersville, Missouri. (Tr. 32-33, 140). He had never lived independently. (Tr. 33). Plaintiff stands 5'4” tall and weighed 270 pounds. (Tr. 35). He completed high school with the help of Special Education. (Tr. 35, 47). In sixth grade, Plaintiff scored a Verbal IQ of 66, a Performance IQ of 57, and a Full Scale IQ of 58. (Tr. 202). At that time, he also scored an Adaptive Behavior Quotient of 88 on the Adaptive Behavior Evaluation Scale (“ABES”), with a margin of error of ±5.53, with a “task-related behavior” subscale score of 6. (Tr. 203). Plaintiff can read and write and can do simple arithmetic with some difficulty. (Tr. 35). He is able to use a cell phone, send text messages to his mother, and had used a computer at the public library to look up “dog stuff.” (Tr. 36). He passed his driver's license test on his third try, with someone reading him the exam. (Tr. 49-50). He helps with the housework, cooks a little, washes dishes, helps with the laundry and mows the lawn. (Tr.45-46). He is able to go grocery shopping independently and he drives his grandmother to appointments if his mother is working, as his grandmother had suffered two strokes. (Tr. 33, 46-47).

         Plaintiff suffers from metabolic acidosis (renal tubular acidosis) with hypokalemia (low potassium). (Tr. 219-220). He also has an enlarged right ventricle in his heart, with mild thickening of his mitral valve leaflets. (Tr. 293-294). He describes the symptoms as having “spells” where he feels a heavy pressure on his chest, racing pulse, dizziness, blurred vision and difficulty moving his legs. (Tr. 51-53). He takes potassium supplements for his condition. (Tr. 44).

         Plaintiff has held several jobs. From 2007 to 2009, he worked as a laborer for the Canal Barge Company making approximately $18, 000 per year. (Tr. 165). He left that job due to his hypokalemia, which caused him to miss shifts. (Tr. 42). Plaintiff also worked for two months at the McBride Saw Mill, owned by his uncle and cousin, making sure nothing fell in between the rollers or jammed them up. (Tr. 40, 43). He also worked helping with handling the animals at livestock auctions. (Tr. 38-39).


         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB on January 31, 2013 and SSI on February 6, 2013 (Tr. 74-75). He alleged an onset date of September 1, 2003, later amended to September 1, 2009. (Tr. 30, 135, 139). In the instant matter, Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on May 9, 2013, and he filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on June 4, 2013 (Tr. 78-87).

         An ALJ held a hearing on May 1, 2014. (Tr. 25). During the course of that hearing, Plaintiff's attorney at the time requested that the ALJ further develop the record as to Plaintiff's current intelligence scores, as the last relevant testing had been conducted when Plaintiff was in sixth grade. (Tr. 29-30, 200-209). The ALJ stated he would “take that under consideration [.]” (Tr. 30). After the hearing, by decision (“Decision”) dated August 4, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 10-21). On December 29, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1). As such, the ALJ's Decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         Under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. “‘If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant is determined to be not disabled.'” Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the claimant first cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful activity” to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines “severe impairment” as “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. . . .” Id. “‘The sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two only when the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v. Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d). If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of, these impairments, then the claimant is per se disabled without consideration of the claimant's age, education, or work history. Id.

         Fourth, the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f), 404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008) (“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ will review a claimant's RFC, and the physical and mental demands of the work the claimant has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         Fifth, the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g), 404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis, the Commissioner has the burden of production to show evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be performed by a person with the claimant's RFC. Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however, always remains with the claimant.” Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926, 931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant, even when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner at step five.”). Even if a court finds that there is a preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ's decision, the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007).

         It is not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495 F.3d at 617. Instead, the district court must simply determine whether the quantity and quality of evidence is enough so that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to support the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ, who is the fact-finder. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Thus, an administrative decision which is supported by substantial evidence is not subject to ...

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