Weston v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on June 8, 2017. (mjm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
BART ALLEN WESTON
Civil No. 6:16-cv-06039
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Bart Allen Weston (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social
Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006), seeking judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and
XVI of the Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any
and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment,
and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 8.1 Pursuant to this authority, the Court
issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.
Plaintiff’s applications for DIB and SSI were filed on January 14, 2013. (Tr. 26, 186-195).
Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to a right shoulder injury. (Tr. 212). Plaintiff alleged an onset
date of October 1, 2010. (Tr. 186). These applications were denied initially and again upon
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his
applications and this hearing request was granted. (Tr. 132).
The docket numbers for this case are referenced by the designation “ECF. No.___” The transcript pages
for this case are referenced by the designation “Tr.”
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on May 22, 2014. (Tr. 43-69). Plaintiff was
present and was represented by counsel, Don Pullen, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational
Expert (“VE”) William Elmore testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was
forty-five (45) years old and had a tenth grade education. (Tr. 48).
On October 16, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s application
for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 26-38). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff last met the insured
status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2014. (Tr. 28, Finding 1). The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since October 1, 2010, his alleged
onset date. (Tr. 28, Finding 2).
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of right shoulder sprain and
obesity. (Tr. 28, Finding 3). The ALJ then determined Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or
medically equal the requirements of any of the Listing of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P
of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 30, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 30-36). First, the ALJ indicated he evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and found his
claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained
the RFC to perform light work but can only occasionally reach overhead with his right dominant
upper extremity. (Tr. 30, Finding 5).
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 36, Finding 6). The ALJ
found Plaintiff was unable to perform his PRW. Id. The ALJ, however, also determined there was
other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 36,
Finding 10). The ALJ based this determination upon the testimony of the VE. Id. Specifically, the
VE testified that given all Plaintiff's vocational factors, a hypothetical individual would be able to
perform the requirements of a representative occupations such as production assembler with 6,000
such jobs in Arkansas and 175,000 such jobs in the nation and cleaner/housekeeper with 4,000 such
jobs in Arkansas and 400,000 such jobs in the nation. Id. Based upon this finding, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined by the Act from October 1, 2010,
through the date of the decision. (Tr. 37, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision. (Tr. 20). See
20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-5).
On April 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court on May 17, 2016. ECF No. 8. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs. ECF
Nos. 12, 15. This case is now ready for decision.
2. Applicable Law:
In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
(2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner’s decision. See Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001).
As long as there is substantial evidence in the record that supports the Commissioner’s decision, the
Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001). If, after reviewing the record, it is possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the
findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be affirmed. See Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1068 (8th Cir. 2000).
It is well established that a claimant for Social Security disability benefits has the burden of
proving his or her disability by establishing a physical or mental disability that lasted at least one
year and that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity. See Cox v. Apfel,
160 F.3d 1203, 1206 (8th Cir. 1998); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act defines
a “physical or mental impairment” as “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological,
or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382(3)(c). A plaintiff must show that
his or her disability, not simply his or her impairment, has lasted for at least twelve consecutive
months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
To determine whether the adult claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner uses
the familiar five-step sequential evaluation. He determines: (1) whether the claimant is presently
engaged in a “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that
significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities; (3)
whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment
listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience); (4) whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform his
or her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform. See Cox, 160 F.3d at 1206; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f). The fact finder only considers
the plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience in light of his or her RFC if the final stage of this
analysis is reached. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2003).
Plaintiff brings the present appeal claiming the ALJ erred: (A) by failing to find Plaintiff met
a Listing, (B) in failing to consider Plaintiff’s obesity in combination with his other impairments, and
(C) in the RFC determination ECF No. 12, Pgs. 8-20. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ
did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 15.
The ALJ must determine whether Plaintiff has a severe impairment that significantly limits
the physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities. A medically determinable impairment
or combination of impairments is severe if it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521 and 416.921.
The ALJ found Plaintiff did suffer from impairments considered to be severe within the
meaning of the Social Security regulations. These impairments included right shoulder sprain and
obesity. (Tr. 28, Finding 3). However, there was no substantial evidence in the record showing
Plaintiff’s condition was severe enough to meet or equal that of a listed impairment as set forth in
the Listing of Impairments. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app.1. Plaintiff has the burden of
establishing that his impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment set out in the Listing of
Impairments. See Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530-31 (1990). Plaintiff has not met this burden.
Plaintiff argues he meets a Listing under Section 1.02 for major dysfunction of a joint and
1.04 for disorders of the spine. ECF No. 12, Pgs. 8-14. Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to
establish he meets theses Listings. ECF No. 15.
Impairments found under Listing 1.02 for major joint dysfunction requires evidence of:
major dysfunction of a joint characterized by gross anatomical
deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony, or fibrous ankylosis,
instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation
of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint, and findings
on appropriate medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing,
bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected joint, with involvement
of one major peripheral weight-bearing joint (i.e. hip, knee, or ankle),
resulting in an inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b
or involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity
(i.e., shoulder, elbow, or wrist-hand), resulting in inability to perform
fine and gross movements effectively, as defined in 1.00B2c.
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.02.
An “inability to ambulate effectively” is an extreme limitation of the ability to walk, i.e., an
impairment that interferes very seriously with the individual’s ability to independently initiate,
sustain, or complete activities. Ineffective ambulation is having insufficient lower extremity
functioning to permit independent ambulation without the use of a hand-held assistive device(s) that
limits the functioning of both upper extremities. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §
1.00B2b(1). To ambulate effectively, individuals must be capable of sustaining a reasonable walking
pace over a sufficient distance to be able to carry out activities of daily living, and they must be able
to travel without companion assistance to and from a place of employment or school. See 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.00B2b(2). Examples of ineffective ambulation include, but are not
limited to, the inability to walk without the use of a walker, two crutches or two canes, the inability
to walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces, the inability to use standard public
transportation, the inability to carry out routine ambulatory activities, such as shopping and banking,
and the inability to climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail. Id.
In this matter, Plaintiff has failed to establish he is unable to ambulate effectively. Plaintiff
has no evidence he has to use a walker, two crutches, or two canes to walk, or that a physician
prescribed these items. Further, Plaintiff presented no diagnostic medical evidence showing he has
a major dysfunction of a joint characterized by gross anatomical deformity, and findings on
medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected
An “inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively” means an extreme loss of
function of both upper extremities; i.e., an impairment(s) that interferes very seriously with the
individual's ability to independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities. To use their upper
extremities effectively, individuals must be capable of sustaining such functions as reaching,
pushing, pulling, grasping, and fingering to be able to carry out activities of daily living. Examples
of inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively include, but are not limited to, the
inability to prepare a simple meal and feed oneself, the inability to take care of personal hygiene, the
inability to sort and handle papers or files, and the inability to place files in a file cabinet at or above
waist level. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.00B2c.
There is no credible evidence showing Plaintiff is prohibited from ambulating effectively
with a major peripheral joint in each upper extremity resulting in inability to perform fine and gross
To meet a listing under 1.04 for disorders of the spine, requires evidence of:
Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal
arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease,
facet arthritis, vertebral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve
root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord with:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by
neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine,
motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle
weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is
involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test
(sitting and supine);
B. Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology
report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable
imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia,
resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than
once every 2 hours;
C. Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established
by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested
by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability
to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B2b.
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.04.
Listing 1.04 requires medical evidence of nerve root compression, sensory or reflex loss, and
a positive straight-leg raising test. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 1.04(A). Plaintiff has failed
to provide medical evidence that documents the criteria for the listed impairment are met. Plaintiff
submitted evidence from 2015 in support of his argument that he met Listing 1.04, however, this
medical is outside the relevant time period ending on October 16, 2014. Additionally, as
demonstrated in the section for Listing 1.02, Plaintiff’s ability to ambulate effectively was
Whether Plaintiff meets a listed impairment is a medical determination and must be
established by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1525(c), 404.1526(b), 416.925(c), 416.926(b). Plaintiff has not met this burden. I find
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments equal to one listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app.1.
B. Combination of Impairments
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by failing to consider his obesity in combination with his other
impairments. However, under the facts in the present case and after a thorough review of the ALJ’s
opinion and the record in this case, this Court finds the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff’s
impairments in combination.
The Social Security Act requires the ALJ to consider the combined effect of all of the
claimant’s impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately,
would be of sufficient severity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1523 (2006). In the present action, in reviewing
these claimed impairments, the ALJ stated Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Tr. 30, Finding 4) (emphasis added). The ALJ also found, “after
consideration of the entire record,” the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with some
limitations. (Tr. 30, Finding 5). The ALJ went on to state Plaintiff’s RFC would not preclude him
from performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 36,
These statements are sufficient under Eighth Circuit precedent to establish that the ALJ
properly considered the combined effect of a claimant’s impairments. See Hajek v. Shalala, 30 F.3d
89, 92 (8th Cir. 1994) (holding that statements such as “the evidence as a whole does not show that
the claimant’s symptoms . . . preclude his past work as a janitor” and “[t]he claimant’s impairments
do not prevent him from performing janitorial work . . .” sufficiently establish that the ALJ properly
considered the combined effects of the plaintiff’s impairments).
Thus, pursuant to the Eighth Circuit’s holding in Hajek, this Court finds the ALJ properly
considered Plaintiff’s impairments in combination. Plaintiff has alleged she suffers from a number
of impairments. However, this Court is not required to find a claimant is disabled simply because
he or she has alleged a long list of medical problems. The ALJ’s opinion sufficiently indicates the
ALJ properly considered the combined effect of Plaintiff’s impairments, and the ALJ properly
considered the severity of the combination of Plaintiff’s impairments. See Hajek, 30 F.3d at 92.
Prior to Step Four of the sequential analysis in a disability determination, the ALJ is required
to determine a claimant’s RFC. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). This RFC determination must
be based on medical evidence that addresses the claimant’s ability to function in the workplace. See
Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 807 (8th Cir. 2004). The ALJ should consider “‘all the evidence
in the record’ in determining the RFC, including ‘the medical records, observations of treating
physicians and others, and an individual’s own description of his limitations.’” Stormo v. Barnhart,
377 F.3d 801, 807 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019 (8th Cir. 2002)).
The Plaintiff has the burden of producing documents and evidence to support his or her claimed
RFC. See Cox, 160 F.3d at1206; 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A).
The ALJ, however, bears the primary responsibility for making the RFC determination and
for ensuring there is “some medical evidence” regarding the claimant’s “ability to function in the
workplace” that supports the RFC determination. Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 703-04 (8th Cir.
2001). Furthermore, this Court is required to affirm the ALJ’s RFC determination if that
determination is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See McKinney v. Apfel,
228 F.3d 860, 862 (8th Cir. 2000).
In this matter, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work but can
only occasionally reach overhead with his right dominant upper extremity. (Tr. 30, Finding 5).
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in this RFC determination. ECF No. 12, Pgs. 17-20. However,
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC determination.
Plaintiff alleged disability based on problems with his right shoulder. Plaintiff injured his
right shoulder in October 2009. (Tr. 294). Dr. Charles Pearce, Jr performed arthoscopic surgery on
Plaintiff’s right shoulder on December 21, 2009. (Tr. 301-302). The postoperative diagnosis was
chronic impingement and a biceps long head tendon tear. (Tr. 301). On May 4, 2010, Dr. Pearce
indicated Plaintiff was limited to 40 pounds and could not do overhead work. (Tr. 311). On June
1, 2010, Dr. Pearce stated Plaintiff could return to regular work duties as of June 2, 2010. (Tr. 312).
On July 20, 2010, Plaintiff had a Functional Capacity Evaluation. (Tr. 278-293). The results
of the evaluation indicated Plaintiff gave an unreliable effort. (Tr. 278). Despite this, the testing
showed Plaintiff capable of performing work at the medium level. (Tr. 279).
On September 20, 2012, Plaintiff was seen for an Orthopedic Evaluation by Dr. Bart Weston.
(Tr. 335-336). Plaintiff had complete and full stability and sensation bilaterally and 4/5 strength in
his right shoulder. Id. Dr. Weston also indicated further surgery was not needed.
As shown by the above medical evidence, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC
determination. Plaintiff has the burden of establishing his claimed RFC. See Goff v. Barnhart, 421
F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590 (8th Cir. 2004)).
Because Plaintiff has not met his burden in this case and because the ALJ’s RFC determination is
supported by sufficient medical evidence, this Court finds the ALJ’s RFC determination should be
Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the decision of the ALJ, denying benefits
to Plaintiff, is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. A judgment incorporating
these findings will be entered pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52 and 58.
ENTERED this 8th day of June 2017.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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