Stamper v. Colvin
ORDER: The decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Signed on 6/19/2017 by District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. (DO)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Before the Court is Plaintiff Russell Stamper’s appeal of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for period of
disability, disability insurance benefits, and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). After careful review, the Commissioner’s decision will
Standard of Review
The Court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to determining if the
decision “complies with the relevant legal requirements and is supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford
v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence
is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
would find adequate to support the [Commissioner’s] conclusion.’” Grable v. Colvin, 770 F.3d
1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)). In
determining whether existing evidence is substantial, the Court takes into account evidence that
both supports and detracts from the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) findings. Cline v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted). “If the ALJ’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence, [the Court] may not reverse even if substantial evidence
would support the opposite outcome or [the Court] would have decided differently.” Smith v.
Colvin, 756 F.3d 621, 625 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis, 239 F.3d at 966). The Court does not
re-weigh the evidence presented to the ALJ. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir.
2005) (citing Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003)). The Court should “defer
heavily to the findings and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734,
738 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
By way of overview, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: obesity; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”); hypertension;
obstructive sleep apnea; and degenerative joint disease (“DJD”) of the knees. The ALJ also
determined that Plaintiff’s bipolar disorder and depression were non-severe impairments. The
ALJ then found that none of Plaintiff’s impairments, whether considered alone or in
combination, meet or medically equals the criteria of one of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Considering Plaintiff’s impairments, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, but
with additional limitations that reduce the capacity for medium work. Based on this RFC, the
ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work as a supervisor and contractor, as
actually performed. Therefore, Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act from January 1,
2009, through the date of the ALJ’s decision.
On appeal, Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred by (1) failing to properly consider whether
Plaintiff could return to his past work at step four, and (2) failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff’s
mental impairments at step two.
Regarding the first argument, where a composite job is involved, “[s]uch situations will
be evaluated according to the particular facts of each individual case,” and, in such instances,
the services of a vocational expert may be necessary. S.S.R. 82-61. Here, the vocational expert
testified that Plaintiff could perform past work as a supervisor and contractor and that she was
aware those jobs as performed were composite jobs which also involved bricklaying duties.
(Tr. 28, 58-65, 74.) Furthermore, Plaintiff himself reported those bricklaying duties were
performed at the light exertional level. (Tr. 191-97.) Thus, contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, the
ALJ did not err in finding that Plaintiff could perform past relevant work as a supervisor and
contractor, as actually performed, at step four.
As for Plaintiff’s second argument, if an ALJ finds that a claimant’s limitations in the
first three categories of mental functioning are “none” or “mild” and the claimant has had no
episodes of decompensation of extended duration, the ALJ will generally find that the mental
impairment is not severe. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(d)(1) and 416.920a(d)(1). Here, the ALJ
noted that the record indicated that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with depression, bipolar
disorder, and a history of polysubstance abuse. (Tr. 19, 257-60, 353-61, 363-65, 369-71, 37780.) Despite these diagnoses, however, the ALJ observed that the objective medical evidence
and Plaintiff’s limited mental health treatment did not reflect a significant loss of abstraction or
intellectual ability, or an inability to learn new information, remember information, interact with
verbal and nonverbal communication, control his movements, or control his behavior. (Tr. 20.)
Consistent with the ALJ’s findings that Plaintiff had only mild limitations in activities of daily
living, social functioning, and maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, along with no
episodes of decompensation, was the opinion of Stephen Scher, Ph.D., the State agency
psychological consultant who reviewed Plaintiff’s file and concluded that the record failed to
show that he suffered from a severe mental impairment. (Tr. 20-21, 79-81, 92.) Accordingly,
the Court finds no error by the ALJ in evaluating Plaintiff’s mental impairments at step two.
Having carefully reviewed the record and the parties’ submissions, for the reasons set
forth above, as well as in the Commissioner’s brief, the Court concludes that substantial evidence
on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s decision.
It is therefore ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
s/ Roseann A. Ketchmark
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATED: June 19, 2017
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