United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE ALJ'S DECISION
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) seeking review of Defendant Social Security
Administration's (“SSA's”) denial of
disability benefits as rendered in a decision by an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons
below, the decision of the ALJ is AFFIRMED.
Court's review of the ALJ's decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to determining if the decision
“complies with the relevant legal requirements and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d
979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)). “Substantial evidence is
less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to
support the [ALJ's] conclusion.'” Grable v.
Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)).
In determining whether existing evidence is substantial, the
Court takes into account “evidence that detracts from
the [ALJ's] decision as well as evidence that supports
it.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th
Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). “If the ALJ's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, [the Court]
may not reverse even if substantial evidence would support
the opposite outcome or [the Court] would have decided
differently.” Smith v. Colvin, 756 F.3d 621,
625 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)). The Court does not “re-weigh
the evidence presented to the ALJ.” Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir.
2003)). The Court must “defer heavily to the findings
and conclusions of the [ALJ].” Hurd v. Astrue,
621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
of overview, the ALJ determined, following a remand from the
SSA Appeals Council,  that Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: “fibromyalgia vs rheumatoid arthritis;
anxiety disorder; affective disorder; and substance abuse
disorder.” However, the ALJ found that none of
Plaintiff's impairments, whether considered alone or in
combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of one of
the listed impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
(“Listing”). The ALJ found that, despite
Plaintiff's limitations, she retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of
light work with certain limitations, such as
performing only simple, repetitive, and routine job duties,
with no interaction with the public and only occasional
interaction with co-workers and supervisors. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant
work but that she could perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, including the
jobs of office helper, mail clerk, and photocopy machine
operator. Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
appeal, Plaintiff makes one argument: that the ALJ committed
an error of law by failing to analyze Plaintiff's drug
and alcohol use under the procedures outlined in
Brueggemann v. Barnhart, 348 F.3d 689 (8th Cir.
2003), Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533 (8th Cir.
2010), and 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b), 416.935(b).
The Court agrees but concludes the error is harmless.
1996 amendment to the Social Security Act, “[a]n
individual shall not be considered to be disabled for
purposes of this subchapter if alcoholism or drug addiction
would (but for this subparagraph) be a contributing factor
material to the Commissioner's determination that the
individual is disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(2)(C), 1382c(a)(3)(J). The implementing regulations
provide as follows:
(a) General. If we find that you are disabled and have
medical evidence of your drug addiction or alcoholism, we
must determine whether your drug addiction or alcoholism is a
contributing factor material to the determination of
(b) Process we will follow when we have medical evidence of
your drug addiction or alcoholism.
(1) The key factor we will examine in determining whether
drug addiction or alcoholism is a contributing factor
material to the determination of disability is whether we
would still find you disabled if you stopped using drugs or
(2) In making this determination, we will evaluate which of
your current physical and mental limitations, upon which we
based our current disability determination, would remain if
you stopped using drugs or alcohol and then determine whether
any or all of your remaining limitations would be disabling.
(i) If we determine that your remaining limitations would not
be disabling, we will find that your drug addiction or
alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the
determination of disability.
(ii) If we determine that your remaining limitations are
disabling, you are disabled independent of your drug
addiction or alcoholism and we will find that your drug
addiction or alcoholism is not a contributing ...