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Helms v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2017

ARLIS HELMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          David D. Noce UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action is before this court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff Arlis Helms is not disabled and, thus, not entitled to either disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq, or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on January 26, 1962. (Tr. 153). He worked as a cotton picker from June 1983 to July 2008. (Tr. 182). He filed his applications for DIB and SSI on November 27, 2013, alleging an onset date of July 3, 2008. (Tr. 153, 160). Plaintiff claimed that the following conditions limited his ability to work: an irregular heartbeat, a hearing impairment, asthma, bronchitis, his gall bladder, and a bad back. (Tr. 180). Plaintiff's application was denied on January 23, 2014, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 87-91, 94-98, 101). A hearing was held in April 2015, where plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (Tr. 22-61). At the hearing, plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to May 25, 2012. (Tr. 28).

         By decision dated May 12, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 9-18). The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. On June 10, 2016, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-3). Consequently, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, he asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to consider plaintiff a “worn out worker” and improperly determining plaintiff's RFC. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and the case remanded for an ALJ to consider the “worn out worker” vocational profile, re-assess plaintiff's RFC, and for plaintiff to receive any necessary psychological testing.

         A. Medical Record and Evidentiary Hearing

         The court adopts plaintiff's unopposed statement of facts (ECF No. 14), as well as defendant's unopposed statement of facts. (ECF No. 19). These facts, taken together, present a fair and accurate summary of the medical record and testimony at the evidentiary hearing. The court will discuss specific facts as they are relevant to the parties' arguments.

         B. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date of May 25, 2012. (Tr. 11). He also found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of coronary artery disease, mild asthma, and hearing loss. (Tr. 11-12). However, the ALJ concluded that none of these impairments, individually or in combination, met or equaled an impairment listed in the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. 12-13). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments left him with the RFC to “perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), ” except that he should not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and should only occasionally climb stairs and ramps. (Tr. 13). He should also “avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as odors, fumes dusts, and gases;” avoid exposure to hazards like unprotected heights and heavy machinery; and work in a quiet environment. (Tr. 13).

         The ALJ considered all of plaintiff's symptoms and the extent to which the symptoms could reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. (Tr. 13). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's treatment record was inconsistent with his allegations of the severity of his impairments, “as he has had very little treatment.” (Tr. 14). The ALJ acknowledged that plaintiff had a heart attack in 2008, but that after he underwent a stent placement, he had only rare follow-up treatment. (Tr. 14). Similarly, although plaintiff testified he was diagnosed with asthma, the medical records do not reflect any pulmonary diagnosis, and plaintiff was not prescribed any medication typically used to treat asthma. (Tr. 14; 227). Finally, although there is evidence that plaintiff has some hearing impairment, he has never worn hearing aids. (Tr. 15).

         The ALJ also considered plaintiff's activities of daily living: he is able to take care of his personal and hygienic needs, he prepares meals for himself, he goes out daily, and he drives and shops in stores. (Tr. 16, 192-99). Plaintiff also testified that he “probably” could pick cotton again if someone would hire him. (Tr. 42). The ALJ gave significant weight to plaintiff's admission that he could likely work if he could get hired. (Tr. 16). He also noted that plaintiff's hearing loss allegedly began when plaintiff was 16, but he worked for several years despite this limitation. (Tr. 16, 43).

         Finally, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a VE to find that plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a farm machine operator, but that there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that a person with plaintiff's RFC and age, education, and work experience could perform, such as a ticket taker, deli cutter, or survey ...


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