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Heintz v. Berryhill

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

March 8, 2018

VINCENT JOHN HEINTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBJE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Vincent John Heintz brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that, despite Heintz's severe physical and mental impairments, he was not disabled as he had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Heintz protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on December 4, 2015, claiming that he became unable to work on September 1, 2015, because of a right knee replacement, left knee pain, back problems, neck problems, and depression. (Tr. 79.) Heintz was 43 years of age on his alleged onset of disability date. Id. His claims were denied initially. (Tr. 99-104.) Following an administrative hearing, Heintz's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated September 21, 2016. (Tr. 16-25.) Heintz then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on October 4, 2016. (Tr. 12, 1-5.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Heintz first argues that he "meets or medically equals the Listing at § 1.03 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (Doc. 16 at 11.) He next claims that the ALJ "did not fulfill her duty to develop the medical record, which duty exists whether or not a claimant is represented." Id. at 13. Finally, Heintz argues that the ALJ "failed to analyze plaintiffs credibility consistent with applicable law and SSA's own rules and regulations." Id. at 15.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first noted that Heintz met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2015, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 18.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Heintz had the following severe impairments: status-post right total knee replacement, bilateral osteoarthritis of the knees, sleep apnea, obesity, and hypertension with edema. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ found that Heintz did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. Id.

         As to Heintz's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except: lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds frequently and less than 10 pounds frequently; sit a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and walk two hours total in an eight-hour workday; and never operate foot controls bilaterally. The claimant would need to elevate his legs up to 18 inches while sitting and require a stick, cane or other assistive device for ambulation while at his workstation. The claimant can no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ropes, ladders and scaffolds; never kneel or crawl; no more than occasionally stoop or crouch; and never work at unprotected heights or with or around hazardous machinery.

(Tr. 19.)

         The ALJ found that Heintz's allegations regarding the extent of his limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 22.) In determining Heintz's RFC, the ALJ indicated that she was assigning "great weight" to the opinions of treating physician Sunny Desai, M.D. (Tr. 21.)

         The ALJ further found that Heintz was unable to perform past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy, such as addresser, document preparer, and press clipping cutter/paster. (Tr. 24-25.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Heintz was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 1, 2015 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 25.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on December 4, 2015, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Based on the application for supplemental security income protectively filed on December 4, 2015, the claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Id.

         III. Applicable Law

         IILA. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This "substantial evidence test, " however, is "more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings." Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review ...


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