United States District Court, E.D. Missouri
DAVID B. LEONARD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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 David B. Leonard (“Plaintiff”) for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Plaintiff filed a
brief in support of the Complaint (ECF 7), and Defendant
filed a brief in support of the Answer (ECF 12).
filed his application for DIB under Title II of the Social
Security Act on May 7, 2015 (Tr. 152-153). Plaintiff was
initially denied relief on July 20, 2015, and on August 19,
2015, he filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 84-92). After a hearing,
by a decision dated April 14, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff
was not disabled (Tr. 10-20). Plaintiff filed a Request
for Review of Hearing Decision on June 15, 2017 (Tr.
151). On March 6, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff
appealed to the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Missouri on May 3, 2018 (ECF 1). As such, the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020, and
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 7, 2015, the alleged onset date of his
disability (Tr. 12).
determined Plaintiff has the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine
with radiculopathy, obesity, depression, adjustment
disorder, and anxiety (Tr. 12). The ALJ also found
Plaintiff has the medically determinable impairments of
diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and mild bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, but the impairments either do not cause more
than a minimal limitation on Plaintiff's ability to
perform work activities, or do not satisfy the durational
requirements for the purposes of disability, and are
therefore non-severe (Tr. 12). 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. 13).
conducted a hearing with Plaintiff, Plaintiff's attorney,
and a vocational expert, Barbara Myers, on January 25, 2017
(Tr. 33). Plaintiff was 42 years old at the time of hearing,
and testified he became disabled on January 7, 2015 (Tr. 35).
Plaintiff completed twelfth grade (Tr. 35). He was employed
at Northeast Correctional Center, and had to resign as a
result of his back pain (Tr. 37). Plaintiff testified he is
5'10” and weighs 315 pounds (Tr. 36). He also
testified he has “put on probably 30 pounds”
since January 2015, because he is unable to exercise (Tr.
has neck pain two to three times a day for approximately an
hour to two, which originated prior to his back surgery in
2015(Tr. 38). As a result of his neck pain, Plaintiff
testified he has a tight squeezing sensation as well as
numbness and tingling in both of his arms approximately two
to three times a day, for approximately 15 or 20 minutes (Tr.
38-39). When Plaintiff experiences numbness in his hands, he
cannot grip things, use a keyboard, and can occasionally drop
cups (Tr. 40). Plaintiff has gotten three sets of steroid
injections in his neck, with the last one occurring three
years ago (Tr. 41).
has non-insulin dependent diabetes (Tr. 42). He takes
metformin for the diabetes, which causes him to have diarrhea
once a week (Tr. 42). This diarrhea causes him to take three
trips to the restroom, with each trip taking about five to
ten minutes (Tr. 42). Plaintiff experiences drops in blood
sugar about once every two weeks, which causes shakiness and
requires him to take a glucose tablet (Tr. 49).
Plaintiff's shakiness occurs for approximately three to
five minutes, and requires a five to ten minutes of recovery
time after the shakiness subsides (Tr. 50).
had back surgery on January 8, 2015, which resulted in him
feeling better for about a month and a half, only to relapse
into worse pain after the first month and a half (Tr. 42-43).
Plaintiff experiences lower back pain about four inches above
his belt line, which occurs about two the three times a day,
for about two to three hours at a time (Tr. 43-44). This pain
radiates into Plaintiff's legs causing a tight squeezing,
and then a sharp sensation (Tr. 44) The pain is worse in
Plaintiff's left leg (Tr. 44).
lower back pain, Plaintiff testified he uses a heating pad
about four times a day for about fifteen minutes (Tr. 45-46).
He experiences swelling in his right ankle about twice a week
which requires elevation (Tr. 47). Plaintiff has walked with
a cane since January 2015, to reduce the risk of falling (Tr.
48). Even with the cane, he falls approximately twice a month
and stumbles but does not fall approximately two to three
times a week (Tr. 48).
sleeps with a CPAP machine (Tr. 49). Plaintiff also testified
he had gastric bypass surgery in August 2013 (Tr. 50). After
losing 100 pounds following the surgery, Plaintiff testified
he has gained back 30 pounds since January 2015, as a result
of his inability to exercise (Tr. 36, 50). Plaintiff takes
one nap a day for approximately an hour and a half, and lays
down usually twice a day for a half hour at a time to relieve
pain (Tr. 51).
testified he sees a psychiatric nurse practitioner for
depression, mood swings, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”) (Tr. 52). The PTSD occurred after
Plaintiff served as a prison guard, and causes him to have
dreams where he is getting assaulted and stabbed (Tr. 52).
Plaintiff has difficulty driving a car and can only drive
about ten miles because of the numbness in his leg (Tr.
53-54). Plaintiff also has difficulties riding in a car
because of his back and leg pain (Tr. 54). His back pain
wakes him up approximately three times a night (Tr. 54).
typical day, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Plaintiff reclines
or lies down approximately three hours a day, including naps
(Tr. 55-56). He is able to sit comfortably for about thirty
minutes at a time, totaling approximately two hours a day
(Tr. 56). With his cane, Plaintiff is able to walk about 100
yards before resting, and only about 50 yards without his
cane (Tr. 56). He is able to list about 10 pounds without
pain in his lower back (Tr. 56-57).
vocational expert, Barbara Myers, testified Plaintiff's
past work includes work as a corrections officer - a medium
exertional level, semi-skilled position (Tr. 65). Ms. Myers
testified Plaintiff is not able to perform any of his past
work; however, he was able to do light, unskilled work
including as a collator operator, an addressing clerk, and a
document preparer (Tr. 65-66).
considering the entire record, including Plaintiff's
testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the Residual
Functioning Capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
work (Tr. 14). Plaintiff can frequently reach overhead and in
all other directions bilaterally; he can frequently
bilaterally handle and finger; he can occasionally balance,
stop, knee, crouch, and crawl; he should never be expose to
unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, or vibration;
he should not operate a motor vehicle as part of his job
duties; he may have occasional exposure to extreme cold or
heat; he is limited to simple routine tasks and making simple
work-related decisions; and, he can have occasional
interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public (Tr.
found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant
(Tr. 19). The ALJ also found there are jobs, which exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, Plaintiff can
perform, including as an addressing clerk, and a document
preparer (Tr. 20). Thus, the ALJ's conclusion for
Plaintiff was “not disabled” (Tr. 20).
appeals, argues first, the ALJ failed to afford adequate
weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician,
Dr. Lent Johnson, and the ALJ's determination of
Plaintiff's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence.
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 ...