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Barker v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

November 19, 2019

WILLIAM BARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION REVERSING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination of whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1962 and has a ninth-grade education. R. at 20, 50-51, 189, 191. He previously worked as a truck driver and welder. R. at 20, 55-58, 208, 246-50. In August 2016, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of November 30, 2013. R. at 189-99. Plaintiff's applications were denied, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. at 84-107, 110-15, 119-21. In May 2018, a hearing was held before ALJ Victor Horton. R. at 45-83. In September 2018, the ALJ issued his decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 10-22.

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: residuals from history of left shoulder injury, status post-surgical intervention; degenerative joint disease, left shoulder; osteoarthritis; and obesity. R. at 13. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant has no limitation with lifting with the right, dominant arm; and with the left, non-dominant arm, no limitation from floor to tabletop; table top to shoulder, 30 pound limitations[;] and above the shoulder, 8 pound limitation. He can climb stairs and ramps frequently, but never climb ladders and scaffolds. He has no limitation with the right dominant arm, pushing and pulling; but with the left arm, pushing and pulling is limited to frequent and the weight limitations as above. He has no restrictions with the right, dominant arm reaching in all directions, including overhead, but the left, non-dominant arm reaching in all directions, including overhead, is limited to frequent and with the weight limitations as above. He must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibrations, further defining vibrations as performing jobs such as operating jackhammers or other equipment, where the operator is significantly vibrated. He must avoid all hazards o[r] heights.

R. at 15. Based upon the record, the RFC, and the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) at the hearing, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as a “truck driver, heavy” and could also work as a janitor and cook helper. R. at 19-21. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied his appeal. R. at 1-3. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The ALJ's RFC

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ, in formulating the RFC, improperly substituted his lay judgment for medical opinions and evidence. One's RFC is the “most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ must base the RFC on “all of the relevant evidence, including the medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual's own description of his limitations.” McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). Because Plaintiff's RFC is a medical question, “an ALJ's assessment of it must be supported by some medical evidence of [Plaintiff's] ability to function in the workplace.” Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “However, there is no requirement that an RFC finding be supported by a specific medical opinion.” Id.

         (1) Ability to Reach

         Plaintiff was discharged in October 2014 from physical therapy for his left shoulder, post-surgery. In Dr. Daniel Buss's opinion, Plaintiff did not have any weight restrictions lifting from floor to tabletop, but he was limited to lifting twenty pounds from tabletop to shoulder and limited to eight pounds above shoulder. R. at 396. The ALJ incorporated these limitations in the RFC. R. at 15. However, Dr. Buss also concluded Plaintiff must avoid repetitive use above shoulder and repetitive outstretched reaching with elbow greater than four to six inches from body. R. at 396. Yet, the ALJ's RFC indicates Plaintiff can frequently reach “in all directions, including overhead” with his left arm but with the weight limitations set forth in the RFC. R. at 15. The ALJ does not ...


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