United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Debra Kay Kemp (“Plaintiff”) 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. 20), Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (Doc. 26), and Plaintiff has filed a
Reply (Doc. 29). The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Doc. 10).
filed her application for SSI on September 14, 2012 (Tr.
186-94). Plaintiff was initially denied on February 15, 2013,
and she filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 27, 2013 (Tr. 104-10,
113). After a hearing, by decision dated December 18, 2014,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 15-33). On March
16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review (Tr. 1-6). As such, the ALJ's decision stands
as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since September 14, 2012, the filing date of
her application for SSI (Tr. 20). The ALJ found Plaintiff has
the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus with diabetic
retinopathy and degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine,  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. 20-22).
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
lift and carry up to 30 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds
frequently with the following limitations (Tr. 22). She is
not limited in her ability to sit, can stand and walk for six
hours in an eight-hour workday, can frequently balance, and
can occasionally bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb
ramps and stairs (Id.). She needs to avoid climbing
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and needs to avoid driving and
jobs that require vision for small or fine details
(Id.). She also needs to avoid exposure to extreme
temperatures, wetness, high humidity, dust, gases, fumes,
odors, and poor ventilation beyond a normal office or retail
setting (Id.). Further, she needs to avoid
unprotected heights and hazardous moving machinery
(Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff has no past relevant
work (Tr. 26). The ALJ found that there are jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform, including collator operator, folding machine
operator, inserting machine operator, electrical assembler,
and bench assembler (Tr. 27). Thus, the ALJ concluded that a
finding of “not disabled” was appropriate (Tr.
28). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's decision.
previously applied for SSI on October 14, 2005. After a
hearing, by decision dated May 14, 2008, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 74-85). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of reactive airway
disease and morbid obesity, and had the RFC to perform light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967 (Tr. 80). The ALJ
noted that “[x]-rays have recently shown [Plaintiff]
had [sic] degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, ” and that pulmonary
function studies showed a reduced
FEV1 (Tr. 79). On February 27, 2009, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
(Tr. 86-88). Plaintiff reapplied for SSI on September 27,
2012. In her 2012 application, Plaintiff claims four
different bases for her disability: diabetes, asthma,
glaucoma, and back, hip, and feet problems (Tr. 207).
to the medical record for the 2012 SSI application, Plaintiff
visited her treating physician, Justin LaMonda, M.D., on
December 11, 2012. Dr. LaMonda diagnosed Plaintiff with,
among other things, morbid obesity, asthma, chronic lower
back pain, inflammation of the sacroiliac joint and hips, and
“[s]evere disabling weakness requiring [a] power
wheelchair to get around” (Tr. 333). Dr. LaMonda noted
that Plaintiff was “on the very verge of disability due
to her unwillingness to get up” from her wheelchair
(Id.). Further, Dr. LaMonda noted that Plaintiff had
a “fully reversible cause of weakness and ha[d] no
valid reason for continuing to let herself become permanently
disabled by staying in the power chair all day”
(Id.). Dr. LaMonda offered injection therapy to
relieve Plaintiff's joint pain, but she refused treatment
(Id.). Dr. LaMonda recommended physical therapy, and
told Plaintiff that exercising was a matter of “life or
death” (Tr. 333, 358).
follow-up appointments, Dr. LaMonda noted that Plaintiff had
made no attempt to get out of her wheelchair, and that she
would become wheelchair-bound if she does not (Tr. 358, 447,
449, 451, 456, 458). In September of 2013, Plaintiff was
forced to do physical therapy in order to requalify for a
power wheelchair (Tr. 445). Plaintiff reported she was in a
lot of pain, but thought she was getting stronger because of
the physical therapy (Id.). In November of 2013, Dr.
LaMonda noted that while physical therapy put “stress
and exercise on [Plaintiff's] heart, . . . [she]
tolerated [it] very well” (Tr. 443). The treatment
notes from December 2013 to February 2014 do not indicate
that Plaintiff tried to exercise again (Tr. 411, 439, 441).
In March of 2014, Dr. LaMonda maintained his opinion that
Plaintiff has a “[s]evere disabling weakness requiring
[a] power wheel chair to get around, ” and noted that
Plaintiff was “bound to [a] power-chair” (Tr.
letter dated August 21, 2014, Dr. LaMonda wrote that
Plaintiff is “unable to ambulate, ” “unable
to propel a manual wheelchair, ” and “requires a
power wheel chair for independent mobility” (Tr. 462).
Further, Dr. LaMonda opined that Plaintiff “presents
with weakness of all extremities” and has
“limited purposeful movement of bilateral lower
extremities” (Id.). Dr. LaMonda stated that
“[t]he power chair is medically necessary for
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)).
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.
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 ...