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Wright v. Saul

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

August 2, 2019

DARVON WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. For the reasons set forth below, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         Background

         Plaintiff was 42 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset. He filed his application on October 2, 2014, alleging a September 4, 2014 onset date, and alleging disability due to hypertension, chronic back pain, issues with his lungs, and migraine headaches. Plaintiff's application was denied, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

         On February 20, 2015, a hearing was held. Following the hearing, an ALJ issued a decision on May 24, 2017 finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied his request for review on March 23, 2018. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         ALJ Hearing

         Plaintiff testified at the hearing that he was 44 years old at the time of the hearing. He lives with his wife in a rented home. He has a driver's license and drives about two to three times per week. He has no past relevant employment. Plaintiff further testified that he has trouble standing for long periods of time, has back pain and pain shooting down his legs. He has trouble breathing, due to lung surgery. He also experiences headaches. Plaintiff testified that he has some mental health issues; he has trouble being around large groups of people and becomes irritated. He has a home health aide who assists him with household chores. He has dizzy spells. He uses oxygen and takes nebulizer treatments three to four times per day.

         Robert Hammond, a vocational expert (“VE”), testified by telephone. In response to the ALJ's hypothetical question, the VE testified that there are jobs in the national economy that a 44 year old person with no past relevant work history that is limited to work at the sedentary level with no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds, occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling and climbing stairs and ramps, avoidance of concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, changing positions for a few minutes every 30-45 minutes while remaining at the work station and staying on task, with work limited to simple, routine tasks, and simple work-related decisions, and occasional interaction with the public and occasional interaction with co-workers could perform, to wit: a circuit board screener, an eyewear assembler, and a semiconductor bonder.

         Decision of the ALJ

         On May 30, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. At Step One, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since September 4, 2014, his application date. At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/sarcoidosis, obesity, depression, and anxiety. However, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1.

         The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform “sedentary” work with the following limitations. He should avoid climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop and crouch, kneel or crawl. He must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, dust, or gases. He should have an allowance to change positions for a few minutes every 30-45 minutes while staying at the work station and remaining on task. In addition, plaintiff could only perform simple, routine tasks and simple work-related decisions in an environment where contact with co-workers or the general public was only occasional.

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. At Step Five, the ALJ found there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including work as a circuit board screener, eye wear assembler, and semiconductor bonder. The ALJ therefore concluded that plaintiff was not “disabled” under the Act.

         General Legal Principles

         The Court's role on judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings apply the relevant legal standards to facts that are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Fires v. Astrue,564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Id. In determining whether the evidence is substantial, the Court considers evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id. As long as substantial evidence supports the decision, the Court may not reverse it merely because ...


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