United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
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 John Welch (“Plaintiff”) for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et
seq. Plaintiff filed a brief in support of the Complaint
(ECF 21) and Defendant filed a brief in support of the Answer
filed his applications for DIB and SSI under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act on May 27, 2015 (Tr. 210-215).
Plaintiff was initially denied relief on July 30, 2015, and
on August 31, 2015, he filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 155-161).
After a hearing, by a decision dated April 19, 2017, the ALJ
found Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 48-59). Plaintiff filed
Request for Review of Hearing Decision on April 27,
2017 (Tr. 209). On April 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff
appealed to the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Missouri on May 24, 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, 2019, and
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 4, 2014, the alleged onset date of his disability
(Tr. 50). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments
of degenerative disc disease with lumbar spondylosis, and
failed back syndrome (Tr. 51). 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. 52).
conducted a hearing with Plaintiff, his counsel, and a
vocational expert, Mary Schauwecker, on January 24, 2017 (Tr.
101). Plaintiff testified he possesses a current driver's
license and drives two or three times a week (Tr. 104).
Plaintiff suffered an injury in June 2014 which put him on
work restrictions, and only returned to work in mid to late
October (Tr. 105). He was terminated by his employer in
November 2014 (Tr. 104-106).
is unable to sit for “very long” before he
experiences numbness in his legs (Tr. 107). He testified he
is only able to stand about ten or fifteen minutes until his
back hurts, and his legs cramp up and fall asleep (Tr. 109).
Plaintiff can walk about a half a mile before he has to sit
down (Tr. 109). He testified he lays down approximately 60%
of the day either in a bed or on a recliner (Tr. 116).
has tried physical therapy but testified the physical
therapist released him and told him “he [could] do no
more for [him] (Tr. 109). Palintiff takes medication for
anxiety and depression including Xanex, Lexapro, and
Gabapentin (Tr. 113). Plaintiff has also been prescribed
Oxycodone for pain (Tr. 113). He testified his medications
have side effects including making him tired, and making it
difficult for him to concentrate and he felt he was being
“pushed pills” by doctors Gessling and Rasmussen
that “made me crazy” (Tr. 115).
testified he is unable to bend over to touch his knees, and
cannot kneel down to pick something up without falling (Tr.
116). He has had difficulty balancing since his back surfer
testified he suffers from anxiety which causes him to get
hot, sweaty, and worked-up where he has to go sit by himself
to calm down (Tr. 117). He experiences these symptoms
approximately two to three days a week (Tr. 117). Plaintiff
experiences depression because he is not able to hold down a
job and support his family, which makes him feel
“worthless” (Tr. 117).
vocational expert, Mary Schauwecker, testified Plaintiff has
past work as a production worker at a trailer company, a
builder at a door shop, a laborer, a maintenance worker for
food industry, and as a welder (Tr. 119). Ms. Schauwecker
testified Plaintiff cannot perform any of his past work;
however, he is able to work as an information clerk, an
addresser, and a document preparer (Tr. 119-132). The
vocational expert also noted although the information clerk
position was light exertion, it could be performed by
Plaintiff because it involved negligible lifting, allowed for
a sit/stand option (Tr. 119-132).
considering the entire record, including Plaintiff's
testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the Residual
Functioning Capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
work, except he requires a sit/stand option which working
which allows a change in position every thirty minutes for a
few minutes at a time while remaining at the workstation (Tr.
53). The ALJ noted diagnoses for cholelithiasis,
diverticulosis, and anthersclerosis, but concluded the record
does not indicate these impairments cause more than minimal
vocationally relevant functional limitations, and therefore,
the conditions are not severe (Tr. 51). The ALJ also found
Plaintiff suffered from medically determinable mental
impairments including depressive disorder, anxiety disorder,
panic disorder, and polysubstance dependence, but these do
not cause more than a minimal limitation in Plaintiff's
ability to perform basic mental work activities, and are
therefore not sever (Tr. 51).
found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work
(Tr. 57). The ALJ found there are jobs which exist in
significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can
perform, including work as an information clerk, an
addresser, and a document preparer (Tr. 58). Thus, the
ALJ's conclusion for Plaintiff was “not
disabled” (Tr. 59).
appeals, arguing the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinions of five different medical sources, and erroneously
concluded Plaintiff could perform sedentary work.
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 combination of
impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his
or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue,
484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing
Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d).
If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of
these impairments, then the claimant is per se
disabled without consideration of the claimant's age,
education, or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and mental
demands of the work the claimant has done in the past to
determine if the claimant can perform any past relevant work.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy which can ...