United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
D. Noce UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action is before the court for judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that
plaintiff Brian Heintzelman was not disabled, and, thus, not
entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of
the Social Security Act. 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.
was born in 1971. (Tr. 170). On October 1, 2012, he filed an
application for disability insurance benefits, alleging an
onset date of September 14, 2012. (Id.). Plaintiff
alleged disability due to a neck injury, a back injury, and
neck and back surgeries. (Tr. 67, 206). The claim was denied
initially in September 2013. (Tr. 112-16). Plaintiff received
a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on April
1, 2015. (Tr. 29-31, 119). At this hearing, plaintiff and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. (Tr. 29-66). On April 8,
2015, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled.
Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied
plaintiff’s request for a review of the ALJ’s
decision. Therefore, the ALJ’s decision is the final
decision of the Commissioner that is now subject to judicial
PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL REVIEW
reviewing a final decision denying Social Security disability
benefits, the court may not reconsider the administrative
record and make its own findings and conclusions on whether
or not plaintiff is disabled. Locher v. Sullivan,
968 F.2d 725, 727 (8th Cir. 1992). Rather, the court must
decide whether the ALJ’s decision is based upon
substantial evidence on the record as a whole and the ALJ
applied the applicable legal standards. Johnson v.
Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2011). The court
“may not reverse… merely because substantial
evidence would support a contrary outcome.”
Id. Substantial evidence is evidence that a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Id. (citations omitted).
entitled to disability benefits under the Act, a claimant
must prove he is unable to perform any substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that would either result in death or which has
lasted or could be expected to last for at least twelve
continuous months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D), (d)(1)(A).
regulations adopted under the Act, the Commissioner has
established a five-step process for determining whether a
person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At Step One
the Commissioner decides whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. If not, at Step Two the Commissioner decides
whether the claimant has a severe impairment or a combination
of impairments that qualifies as severe. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c). “Severe
impairment” is defined as any impairment or combination
of impairments which significantly limits the
claimant’s physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. Id. If the claimant has a severe
impairment that meets the duration requirement, the
Commissioner determines at Step Three whether the
claimant’s impairment meets or is medically equal to
one of the deemed-disabling impairments listed in the
Commissioner’s regulation. 20 C.F.R. §
so listed, at Step Four the Commissioner decides whether the
claimant has the RFC to perform his past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). A claimant’s RFC is the most
he can still do in a daily work-related environment despite
his limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1);
Masterson v. Barnart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir.
claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If he cannot
perform his past relevant work, at Step Five the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant
retains the RFC to perform other work that is available in
substantial numbers in the national economy and that is
consistent with the claimant’s vocational factors of
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(v); Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d
922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010).
court accepts and adopts the parties’ unopposed
statements of relevant facts and descriptions of
plaintiff’s medical record. The court will discuss
specific evidence from the medical record as needed.
hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff testified to the following
facts. In 2011, he was working in a dump truck at a road
construction site when a tractor trailer hit him. (Tr.
36-38). He worked through 2011, then had a surgical fusion in
his lower back and a disk replaced in his neck. (Tr. 38).
After these surgeries, his neck “feels great,”
with “no more shooting pain” down his arm, and
his legs no longer have constant pain or fall out from
underneath him. (Tr. 39). However, he is still having low
back problems when he is on his feet for more than 45
minutes. (Tr. 39-40). He has to alternate between standing
and sitting. (Tr. 40). When sitting “it’s not so
bad,” if he can bend the chair backward a bit, but it
depends on the chair. (Tr. 40). He is able to drive and does
so, but he prefers not to, because he does not like being on
the road with tractor trailers. (Tr. 41). In 2014, plaintiff
earned about $7,600 working for Quality Building Products,
filling in for a worker who had quit. Plaintiff drove a
forklift and loaded trucks. (Tr. 43). The manager of the
company is a friend of plaintiff’s and accommodated
plaintiff’s restrictions. (Tr. 42-43). Plaintiff was
allowed to sit in the break room or leave at will. (Tr. 43).
He would generally work four to seven hours per day. (Tr.
testified that since the accident, he has a shooting or
stabbing head pain “constantly . . . it’s not
every minute of every day, but it’s all day long . . .
it comes and it goes.” (Tr. 47). He has experienced
only 23 days in 4 years when he felt no head pain. Severe
head pain ranges from five to ten minutes at a time to
lasting one to two days. (Tr. 47). He gets severe migraines
one to two times a month. During these severe migraines, he
is irritable, and he lies down but cannot sleep without
medication. (Tr. 48-49).
a typical day, plaintiff alternates between sitting in a
recliner and watching television and going downstairs and
walking on a treadmill for up to 20 minutes. Once a week, he
does loads of laundry and folds clothes, though he does not
carry the laundry baskets up and down the stairs. He helps
his children with their homework unless he is having a bad
day, and he will prepare microwave meals for them. Plaintiff
does no yard work, but continues to occasionally work for his
friend at Quality Building Products. (Tr. 50-52).
testified that a person with plaintiff’s age,
education, and work experience, who can lift and carry up to
20 pounds occasionally; who can push or pull 25-30 pounds
occasionally; who occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or
crawl; who can occasionally work with up to 15 pounds
overhead; who must avoid working around hazards like
unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; who can perform
simple, routine tasks with occasional changes in a routine
work setting; and who must alternate between sitting and
standing on an hourly basis while remaining at the work
station could not perform plaintiff’s past relevant
work as a tow-truck driver, dump truck driver, or highway
maintenance worker. (Tr. 58-60). However, the VE testified
that such an individual could still work as an inspector or
as a cashier. (Tr. 60). The VE testified that these jobs
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr.