United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER AFFIRMING IN PART AND REMANDING THE
Maretha Campbell petitions for review of a partially
favorable decision by Defendant, the Commissioner of Social
Security. Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34,
1381-85. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
found that Plaintiff has been disabled since August 4, 2014,
due to her age, but not prior thereto. Plaintiff appeals this
aspect of the ALJ's decision.
carefully reviewing the parties' arguments and the record
as a whole, the Court finds that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's opinion that Plaintiffs'
impairments do not meet or medically equal a listing. The
Court also finds, however, that the ALJ failed to adequately
explain his conclusion with respect to Plaintiff's RFC.
The Commissioner's decision is therefore AFFIRMED IN PART
and REMANDED for further explanation.
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
necessary. Plaintiff filed for disability insurance and
supplemental security income in 2010, alleging a disability
onset date of November 20, 2009. The Commissioner denied the
applications at the initial-claim level, and Plaintiff
appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. Plaintiff then appealed the
Commissioner's decision to this Court, which, upon
Defendant's motion, remanded the case under § 205(g)
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
that appeal was pending, Plaintiff filed two additional
disability claims-identical to the first-which the
Commissioner also initially denied. The Appeals Council
directed the ALJ to consolidate these and the remanded claims
and issue a new decision. The ALJ held two hearings and, in
November 2017, issued a “partially favorable”
decision. He found that Plaintiff had been disabled since
August 4, 2014, but not prior thereto. The Appeals Council
again declined to review the matter, and so judicial review
is now appropriate. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
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 but enough that a reasonable mind
would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's
decision. Id. In making this assessment, a court
considers evidence that supports and detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Id. A court must
“defer heavily” to the Commissioner's
findings and conclusions, Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d
847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015), and may reverse the
Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the
available zone of choice. Buckner v. Astrue, 646
F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). A decision is not outside this
zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process 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). Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered
from several severe impairments, including, among others,
morbid obesity, fibromyalgia, and sleep apnea. The ALJ
concluded that these impairments did not meet or medically
equal the severity of a listed impairment, and he found that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work.
He also concluded that Plaintiff became disabled on August 4,
2014, when she turned fifty.
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that her obesity and
fibromyalgia did not meet listings 1.02A and 14.09D,
respectively, whether considered individually or in
combination with her other impairments. She also argues that
the ALJ erred in formulating her RFC.
The ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff's impairments
were not medically equivalent to a listed
three, the ALJ determines whether a claimant “meets or
equals an impairment described in the Listing of Impairments,
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Carlson
v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 592 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii)). “The listings define
impairments that would prevent an adult, regardless of his
age, education, or work experience, from performing
any gainful activity, not just ‘substantial
gainful activity.'” Sullivan v. Zebley,
493 U.S. 521, 532 (1990) (emphasis in original). Hence, they
“should not be read expansively.” Johnson v.
Astrue, 816 F.Supp.2d 752, 774 (W.D. Mo. 2011) (internal
quotation and citation omitted). To establish that an
unlisted impairment, or combination of impairments, equals a
listing, the claimant “must present medical findings
equal in severity to all the criteria for the one
most similar listed impairment.” Sullivan, 493
U.S. at 531 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a)).
Plaintiff's obesity was not medically ...