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Wells v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

May 23, 2018

JACKSON WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REMANDING CASE TO COMMISSIONER FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE.

         This action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Jackson Wells' application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of schizoaffective disorder and anxiety disorder, but retained the residual functional capacity to perform work as a laborer, automobile detailer, or dishwasher.

         After carefully reviewing the record, the Court holds the ALJ's findings concerning Listing 12.03 are not supported by the record. The Court REMANDS this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed his application on September 2, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of December 31, 2010. He subsequently amended the alleged onset date to September 4, 2014.

         The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on March 16, 2016, issued her decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 20, 2017, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Standard of Review

         A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Discussion

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at Step Three by failing to find that he met Listing 12.03C and at Step Four in failing to evaluate properly the opinion of his treating psychiatrist.

         I. The ALJ's findings concerning Listing 12.03 are not supported by the record.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.03C[2] for schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders. Plaintiff's eligibility is determined by whether his illness met or equaled the Listing as of the date of the ALJ's decision, March 16, 2016. On that date, for a claimant to qualify under Listing 12.03C, the claimant was required to show:

Medically documented history of a chronic schizophrenic, paranoid, or other psychotic disorder of at least 2 years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated ...

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