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Thomasan v. Berryhill

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

March 20, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying William Thomason's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. Thomason alleged disability due to fatigue, congestive heart failure, dizziness, and memory loss. (Tr. 206.) The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 9.] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the hearing transcripts and the medical evidence. The Court heard oral argument in this matter on January 4, 2018. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will reverse and remand the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. Issues for Review

         Thomason presents several issues for review. First, he states that the Commissioner failed to meet her burden of proof to demonstrate that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Second, Thomason asserts that the ALJ did not properly consider the opinion evidence from his treating physicians including, Dr. Robert Armbruster, Dr. Venkata Pante, and Dr. Antonella Quattromani. Third, Thomason states that the ALJ failed to make specific credibility findings regarding his credibility. The Commissioner contends that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and should be affirmed.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)1)A), 423(d)1)(A).

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) uses a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(1), 416.920(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         Fourth, the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 726 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003).

         III. Discussion

         A. Thomason's Medical History

         Thomason had a massive heart attack in July 2012. He had thirteen minutes of tachycardia[1], followed by nine minutes of flat lined echocardiogram (EKG), and was hospitalized for 21 days. (Tr. 340.) Doctors performed a five-way cardiac bypass and he received a pacemaker defibrillator. (Tr. 32-33, 340.) Dr. Antonella Quattromani was Thomason's initial treating cardiologist between 2012 and 2015. (Tr. 303-313, 315-327, 329-31, 348-60, 482-84.) During her treatment of Thomason, Dr. Quattromani diagnosed Thomason with cardiomyopathy- ischemic[2], cardiomyopathy-primary, generalized osteoarthritis, history of myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death. In February 2013, his ejection fraction[3] was 35%. (Tr. 303-304.) During this time, Thomason's heart condition was stable. (Tr. 303, 306, 349.) He complained about joint pain in his shoulder, knees, ankles, and elbows in August and October 2013. (Tr. 308-309, 320.) Thomason returned to work after his heart attack in 2012 and worked until 2014. (Tr. 38.)

         During a visit with Dr. Fredric Prater in June 2014, Thomason complained of numbness and tingling. (Tr. 420.)

         In November 2015, Thomason complained of left-sided facial numbness and whole body numbness. (Tr. 405.) On November 13, 2015, a Carotid Duplex Bilateral[4] ultrasound showed that there was “likely 99% stenosis of the left internal carotid artery origin with minimal flow.” The ultrasound also showed 70-80% stenosis right internal carotid artery origin.” (Tr. 410.) Thomason was admitted to the hospital on November 23, 2015 due to bilateral carotid artery stenosis with 99% on the left and 70-80% on the right, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus type 2, history of coronary artery disease, history of pacemaker placement, and history of congestive heart failure. (Tr. 399.) On that same date, Dr. Gordon Knight performed a left carotid ...

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