United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ATHENA M. WEAKLEY, as substitute party for Shaun Robert Weakley Deceased, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Athena M. Weakley's appeal
regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under the Social Security Act
for her husband who died while this claim was pending before
the Social Security Administration. The Court has
jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the
exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 9.] The Court has
reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire
administrative record, including the transcript and medical
evidence. Based on the following, the Court will affirm the
widow presents four issues for review: (1) the administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) failed to properly consider the
medical opinion evidence of Dr. Peter Montgomery,
Weakley's treating primary care physician, (2) the ALJ
failed to find that Weakley's mental disorder was a
severe impairment, (3) the ALJ improperly relied upon the
opinion of a single decision maker, and (4) the ALJ failed to
address Weakley's need to use a cane. The Commissioner
asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be
Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A),
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) uses a
five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking
disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(1), 416.920(a)(1). First, the
claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an
impairment or combination of impairments that significantly
limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities
and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third,
the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets
or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the
applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the
claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed
impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him
or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets
this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step
five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the
claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of
jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222
F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all
of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will
find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari,
274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the
decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v.
Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court
determines whether evidence is substantial by considering
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision
as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court
may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that
would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would
have decided the case differently. Id. If, after
reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one
of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding,
the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed.
Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir.
Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as
it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel.
Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003).
“In this substantial-evidence determination, the entire
administrative record is considered but the evidence is not
reweighed.” Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d. 913, 915
(8th Cir. 2012).
case, the ALJ found that Weakley had the severe impairments
of spine disorder and right ankle injury. (Tr. 35.) The ALJ
also determined that Weakley had the RFC to perform sedentary
work, except he was limited to occasionally climbing ramps
and stairs, but never ladders, ropes, and scaffolds;
occasionally balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
crawling; and occasional exposure to vibration. (Tr. 37.)
first issue is whether the ALJ should have found that
Weakley's mental impairments were severe. After the ALJ
has determined that a claimant is not engaged in substantial
gainful activity, the ALJ then determines whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments that has or is expected to last twelve months or
will result in death. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509,
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(ii). A physical or mental impairment must be
established by medical evidence consisting of signs,
symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by the
claimant's statement of symptoms. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 416.908. To be considered severe, an impairment
must significantly limit a claimant's ability to
do basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R §§
404.1520(c), 416.920(c). “Step two [of the five-step]
evaluation states that a claimant is not disabled if his
impairments are not severe.” Kirby v. Astrue,
500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Simmons v.
Massanari,264 F.3d 751, 754 (8th Cir. 2001)). “An
impairment is not severe if it amounts only to a slight
abnormality that would not significantly limit the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” Id. at 707. “If the
impairment would have no more than a minimal effect on the
claimant's ability to work, then it does not satisfy the
requirement of step two.” Id. (citing Page
v. Astrue,484 F.3d ...