United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)
for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy
A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
denying the application of Plaintiff Ahmet Music
(“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
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. (the “Act”). The parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate
judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 16). Because
I find the decision denying benefits was supported by
substantial evidence, I will affirm the Commissioner's
denial of Plaintiff's application.
March 11, 2013, Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB, alleging
that he had been unable to work since October 12, 2010. (Tr.
73, 185-98). His applications were initially denied. (Tr.
100-04). Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 107-08). On September
23, 2015, after two hearings, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 6-25). On August 24,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
testified at two hearings before the ALJ. (Tr. 26-52, 53-70).
At the first, held on March 31, 2015, Plaintiff testified
that he has problems including back pain and left knee pain
that limit his ability to sit, stand, and walk (Tr. 36-39);
sleep problems (Tr. 39, 42-43); swelling in his fingers (Tr.
40); numbness in his elbows (Tr. 40); and pain in his left
shoulder and neck that causes him difficulty in lifting his
arm overhead and forward. (Tr. 41-42). Plaintiff worked most
recently as a machine operator for nine years, which involved
moving up to 150 pounds. (Tr. 44-45). He stopped working
because of his knee injury. (Tr. 45). At the second hearing,
held on September 15, 2015, Plaintiff testified that since
the prior hearing, he had begun taking medicine for
depression and cholesterol issues and had been trying to do
back exercises at home. (Tr. 59, 61).
April 29, 2013, Plaintiff completed a Function Report. (Tr.
253-60). He indicated that his conditions affected his
ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, walk, sit, kneel, climb
stairs, remember, concentrate, understand, follow
instructions, and complete tasks; he did not indicate
problems with reaching. (Tr. 258). He stated that he can only
lift eight pounds because his shoulder hurts. (Tr. 258).
8, 2013, Charles Mannis, M.D., conducted a consultative
examination of Plaintiff. (Tr. 391-401). Plaintiff's
chief complaints were left knee pain, back pain, and shoulder
pain. (Tr. 391). Plaintiff reported fairly constant knee pain
and intermittent knee swelling that interfered with his
ability to squat and go up and down stairs. (Tr. 391). It was
noted that there was “no definitive history of injury
to his neck, shoulders or back, although he complains of
diffuse pain in the upper back and the lower back and pain in
his shoulders when he lifts.” (Tr. 391-92). Plaintiff
attributed this in some part to heavy work over a period of
time. (Tr. 392). On examination, Plaintiff had a slightly
stiff-legged gait on the left with lack of normal heel/toe
push-off; exhibited diffuse tenderness throughout the
thoracic area and lower lumbar area; had full motion of his
neck and shoulders (but complained of pain with internal
rotation of both shoulders); had diffuse edema of all fingers
and was unable to make a complete fist; showed diffuse
tenderness in the lumbar spine; and had global tenderness in
the left knee. (Tr. 392). His grip strength was 4/5
bilaterally. (Tr. 392). Dr. Mannis's diagnoses were
degenerative arthritis of the left knee, probable
degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine, and bilateral
shoulder pain. (Tr. 393). Dr. Mannis completed a Medical
Source Statement in which he opined that Plaintiff could lift
and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; could sit for 30 minutes at a time without
interruption and for five hours in an eight-hour workday;
could stand for 30 minutes at a time and for two hours in an
eight-hour workday; could walk for 20 minutes at a time and
one hour in an eight-hour workday; could frequently reach
(other than overhead); and could occasionally reach overhead,
handle, finger, feel, and push/pull. (Tr. 394-96).
review of Plaintiff's medical treatment records dated
during and shortly before his alleged disability onset date
shows Plaintiff has sought treatment for knee pain, lower
back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, headaches, sleep
problems, hyperlipidemia, esophageal reflux, and mental
symptoms. The Court will address additional specific records
relevant to the issues presented by the parties' briefs,
as needed, in the discussion section below.
Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act
defines as disabled a person who is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A);
1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d
734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be “of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v.
Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing
the five-step process). At Step One, the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in
“substantial gainful activity”; if so, then he is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step
Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a
severe impairment, which is “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three,
the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the
“listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648
F.3d at 611. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the
Commissioner proceeds with the rest of the five-step process.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d);
McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the
Commissioner determines whether the claimant can return to
his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC
with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's
past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant
can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if
the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step.
Id. At Step Five, the Commissioner considers the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to
determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot
make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that
he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step
Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in
the national economy ...