McDade v. Social Security Administration Commissioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Honorable Barry A. Bryant on November 9, 2017. (mjm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
HOT SPRINGS DIVISION
ROYCE GLEN MCDADE
Civil No. 6:16-cv-06097
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Royce Glen McDade (“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
applications 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. 9.1 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 August 1, 2013. (Tr. 68, 256-265).
Plaintiff alleged he was disabled due to his neck, back, a brain injury and heart problems. (Tr. 290).
Plaintiff alleged an onset date of September 29, 2007 which was later amended to October 3, 2009.
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.”
(Tr. 68). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 194-209).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on his applications and this hearing request
was granted. (Tr. 213).
Plaintiff’s administrative hearing was held on November 6, 2014. (Tr. 90-118). Plaintiff was
present and was represented by attorney, Hans Pullen, at this hearing. Id. Plaintiff and Vocational
Expert (“VE”) Stefanie Ford testified at this hearing. Id. At the time of this hearing, Plaintiff was
forty-four (44) years old and had a high school education. (Tr. 95-96).
On June 26, 2015, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff’s applications
for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 68-85). In this decision, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2010. (Tr. 71, Finding 1). The ALJ also
determined Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 29,
2007, his alleged onset date. (Tr. 71, Finding 2).
The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the severe impairments of history of coronary artery
disease with intermittent angina pectoris, left ventricular systolic dysfunction, aortic stenosis,
dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, degenerative joint disease, and disc disease
of the cervical and lumbar spine. (Tr. 71, 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. 71, Finding 4).
In this decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s subjective complaints and determined his RFC.
(Tr. 72-83). 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 for sedentary work with restrictions including being able to stand and walk for no more than
two hours out of an 8-hour workday; could never crouch, stoop, or climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds;
could occasionally balance, kneel, or crawl; could not be exposed to temperature extremes of heat
or cold, unprotected heights, or fumes, odors, or gases; limited to work where the complexity of one
to two step tasks was learned and performed by rote with few variables requiring little judgment; and
supervision required would be simple, direct, and concrete, with the work comprised of Specific
Vocational Preparation (SPV)-1 or SVP-2 jobs that could be learned in 30 days. Id.
The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 83, 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.
367-369). 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 representative occupations such as table worker with 33,100 such jobs
in the nation and sticker/labeler with 7,000 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 September 29,
2007, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 85, Finding 11).
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision. (Tr. 64). See
20 C.F.R. § 404.968. The Appeals Council declined to review this unfavorable decision. (Tr. 1-5).
On September 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed the present appeal. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court on November 1, 2016. ECF No. 9. Both Parties have filed appeal briefs.
ECF Nos. 12, 13. 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 assess his need for heart surgery in combination with other impairments, and
(C) in the RFC determination. ECF No. 12, Pgs. 10-19. In response, the Defendant argues the ALJ
did not err in any of his findings. ECF No. 13.
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 history of coronary artery
disease with intermittent angina pectoris, left ventricular systolic dysfunction, aortic stenosis,
dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, degenerative joint disease, and disc disease
of the cervical and lumbar spine. (Tr. 71, 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
11.14 for peripheral neuropathy. ECF No. 12, Pg. 10. Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to
establish he meets theses Listings. ECF No. 13.
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 medical record 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 joints.
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
Plaintiff also argues he meets Listing 11.14 for peripheral neuropathy. However, Plaintiff
did not show he met Listing 11.14. The records relied on by Plaintiff fail to provide any evidence
showing Plaintiff meets the criteria of a Listing under Section 11.14.
In order to meet Listing 11.14, Plaintiff must have peripheral neuropathies “with
disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B, in spite of prescribed treatment.” 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 11.14. Listing 11.04B requires “significant and persistent
disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and
dexterous movements, or gait and station” Id. §11.04B. “Persistent disorganization of motor
function in the form of paresis or paralysis, tremor or other involuntary movements, ataxia and
sensory disturbances (any or all of which may be due to cerebral, cerebellar, brain stem, spinal cord,
or peripheral nerve dysfunction) which occur singly or in various combinations, frequently provides
the sole or partial basis for decision in cases of neurological impairment. The assessment of
impairment depends on the degree of interference with locomotion and/or interference with the use
of fingers, hands, and arms.” Id. § 11.00C.
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 need for heart surgery 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. 71, Finding 4) (emphasis added). The ALJ also found, “after
consideration of the entire record,” the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work with some
limitations. (Tr. 72, 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. 84,
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 he 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 for sedentary work with
restrictions including being able to stand and walk for no more than two hours out of an 8-hour
workday; could never crouch, stoop, or climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; could occasionally balance,
kneel, or crawl; could not be exposed to temperature extremes of heat or cold, unprotected heights,
or fumes, odors, or gases; limited to work where the complexity of one to two step tasks was learned
and performed by rote with few variables requiring little judgment; and supervision required would
be simple, direct, and concrete, with the work comprised of Specific Vocational Preparation (SPV)-1
or SVP-2 jobs that could be learned in 30 days. (Tr. 72, Finding 5). Substantial evidence supports
the ALJ’s RFC determination.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in this RFC determination because the ALJ failed to consider
a sit/stand option. ECF No. 12, Pgs. 17-18. However, Plaintiff’s argument is without merit. To
begin with, Plaintiff fails to refer to any evidence to establish a sit/stand option is needed. Although,
Plaintiff testified he occasionally used assistive devices for walking; these were not prescribed by
an acceptable medical source and the records do not establish a medical necessity.
Plaintiff also argues the ALJ’s hypothetical questions did not adequately depict Plaintiff’s
condition. At Step Five of a disability determination, the SSA has the burden of establishing that
a claimant retains the ability to perform other work in the economy. See Snead v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d
838, 836 (8th Cir. 2004). The SSA may meet this burden by either applying the Grids or by relying
upon the testimony of a VE. See Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 621 (8th Cir. 2004).
In this matter, the ALJ had responses from a VE regarding Plaintiff’s ability to perform
work in the national economy. It is generally accepted that VE testimony, in response to a
hypothetical question, is substantial evidence if the hypothetical sets forth the credible impairments
with reasonable precision. See Starr v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1006 (8th Cir. 1992). It has further been
established the ALJ must only include in the hypothetical those impairments which the ALJ actually
finds credible, and not those which he rejects, assuming his findings are supported by substantial
evidence. See Onstad v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1232 (8th Cir. 1993).
The ALJ found Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work with limitations. (Tr. 72,
Finding 5). In response to a hypothetical question containing these limitations, the VE provided
answers that work existed in the national economy consistent with the limitations found by the ALJ.
(Tr. 367-369). The ALJ found a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy which
Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 84, Finding 10). Relying on the VE testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff
was not under a disability as defined by the Act. (Tr. 85).
The ALJ's hypothetical question properly set forth those limitations the ALJ found credible
and which are supported by the evidence of record. The VE stated jobs existed in both the national
and regional economy for the vocational profile of the Plaintiff. Such testimony, based on a
hypothetical question consistent with the record, provided substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s
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 affirmed.
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 9th day of November 2017.
/s/ Barry A. Bryant
HON. BARRY A. BRYANT
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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