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Wamsley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri

March 22, 2019

DALE WAMSLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         This is an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying the application of Dale Wamsley (“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint (ECF 19) and Defendant has filed a brief in support of the Answer (ECF 24).


         Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act in March 2014 (Tr. 150-157). Plaintiff was initially denied relief on August 11, 2014, and on November 9, 2014, he filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 103-107, 145). After a hearing, by a decision dated October 5, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 10-22). Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision on November 9, 2016 (Tr. 145-149). On September 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on November 17, 2017 (ECF 1). As such, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         The ALJ determined Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016, and Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 14, 2013, the amended alleged onset date of his disability (Tr. 12).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments of disorders of the spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), asthma, and obesity (Tr. 12). The ALJ also found Plaintiff's non-severe impairments include the mental impairments of anxiety and depression (Tr. 13). Plaintiff's medical records indicated Plaintiff suffered from hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and hepatic lipase[1] but these conditions did not cause more than minimal limitations on basic work activities, and therefore they were not related to Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments (Tr. 13). The ALJ found no impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 14).

         The ALJ conducted a hearing with Plaintiff, and Plaintiff's counsel, on April 21, 2016 (Tr. 27-66). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified he was born in 1965, completed high school, and attending ITT Bailey Tech for a year and a half to learn auto repair (Tr. 32). His past work includes positions with United Carpeting Company, and Mohawk Industries Incorporated (Tr. 32). In these positions, Plaintiff worked in a warehouse on shipping, receiving, loading trucks, and ensuring contractors had the appropriate tools (Tr. 33). He was required to lift approximately 80 pounds, and spend most of the day on his feet (Tr. 34). He was let go from his warehouse position as a result of a “major” shoulder surgery on his left shoulder in April 2011 (Tr. 34-35). When he returned to work after five months, he had an accident on a forklift and was let go from the position (Tr. 35). Plaintiff sought additional employment but was unable to find work (Tr. 35). In 2013, Plaintiff was in a car accident where he broke all of his ribs on the left side of his body, fractured his sternum, punctured his left lung, and suffered muscle separation on his right leg, which kept him in the hospital for a week (Tr. 35-36).

         Plaintiff has diabetes and sometimes experiences symptoms such as blurry vision, feeling sluggish, and tingling in his hands and feet, when his sugars get really high (Tr. 38, 58). Plaintiff also testified he suffers from hypertension and high blood pressure which is controlled with medication (Tr. 39). Plaintiff has a limited range of movement in his shoulders, which prevents him from being able to raise his arms above his head (Tr. 40-41). As a result of this shoulder pain, Plaintiff testified he has trouble sleeping which does not improve with pain medication (Tr. 41). Plaintiff has had shoulder injections, seeking to relieve his shoulder limitations and pain (Tr. 40-41).

         Plaintiff also has trouble breathing and has been diagnosed with COPD[2] (Tr. 43). He uses an inhaler as-needed to help with the symptoms (Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff testified he has problems doing normal daily activities (Tr. 44). Doing the dishes or cooking requires a break where Plaintiff has to sit down after standing for approximately ten minutes (Tr. 44-45). Plaintiff has challenges when lifting clothes out of the washer, given the pain in his shoulders and back (Tr. 44). He experiences limited mobility in his neck as well as pain in his back, legs, and shoulders, which makes him “nervous” when driving (Tr. 45). Plaintiff is limited to a maximum of 40 minutes grocery shopping, approximately twice a month (Tr. 45, 47). Showering, bathing, and getting dressed are difficult, given his limited mobility and pain (Tr. 45-46). Plaintiff is able to do housework such as vacuum and dust (Tr. 49).

         Plaintiff can sit for approximately an hour, stand for about thirty minutes, can walk one and half blocks, and can lift and carry up to twenty pounds (Tr. 46-47). He has two sons, one is 24 years old, and one is 13 years old (Tr. 46-47). Both sons live outside Plaintiff's home (Tr. 47). Plaintiff used to play drums and saxophone, but is no longer able to play either instrument (Tr. 50). Plaintiff was prescribed a cane in April 2015, and uses it to help with stability and balance (Tr. 54-55).

         Plaintiff had difficulty getting treatment prior to being accepted into Medicaid at the end of 2015 (Tr. 56). Prior to being awarded Medicaid, Plaintiff had neck surgery from a doctor who “basically volunteered to do it for free” (Tr. 57). Plaintiff testified he also experiences difficulty breathing in the cold, has migraine headaches approximately once a month, and suffers from memory problems (Tr. 57-63). Plaintiff does not suffer from insomnia, side effects from his medication, or changes in pain, related to changes in weather (Tr. 57-63).

         The vocational expert, Brenda Young, completed an interrogatory on May 11, 2016, stating Plaintiff is unable to perform any past work; however, he is able to work as a parking cashier, small product assembler, and laundromat attendant (Tr. 241-248).

         After considering the entire record, including Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the Residual Functioning Capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except he requires a work environment which allows him to alternate between sitting and standing and/or walking every hour throughout the work day (Tr. 14). He can reach overhead on the right frequently, and occasional on the left (Tr. 14). Plaintiff can frequently reach, handle, and finger[3], occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds (Tr.14). He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch but never crawl (Tr. 14). Plaintiff also must avoid all exposure to unprotected heights and concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, humidity and vibration (Tr.14). The ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work[4] (Tr. 20). The ALJ also found there are jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can perform, including parking casher, small products assembler, and laundromat attendant (Tr.21). Thus, the ALJ's conclusion for Plaintiff was “not disabled” (Tr. 22).

         Plaintiff appeals, arguing the decision of the ALJ failed to articulate a legally sufficient rational for his conclusions regarding Plaintiff's RFC; Plaintiff's RFC fails to include any limitations to account for Plaintiff's severe impairments of COPD and asthma; the ALJ erred by not finding Plaintiff's shoulder conditions to be severe impairments; and the ALJ failed to resolve conflicts with the vocational expert's testimony.


         Under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner must follow a five-step process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. “If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant is determined to be not disabled.” Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, first the claimant cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful activity” to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines “severe impairment” as “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. . . .” Id. “‘The sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two, only when the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v. Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d). If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of these impairments, then the claimant is per se ...

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