United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JEFFREY L. VIKEN, CHIEF JUDGE.
William Short Horn filed a complaint appealing the final
decision of Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration, finding him not disabled.
(Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled to
benefits. (Docket 7). The court issued a briefing schedule
requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material
facts (“JSMF”). (Docket 9). The parties filed
their JSMF. (Docket 10). The parties also filed a joint
statement of disputed facts
(“JSDF”). (Docket 10-1). For the reasons stated
below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket 13) is granted.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 10) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of salient facts is incorporated in the
discussion section of this order.
28, 2009, Mr. Short Horn filed an application for
supplemental social security income (“SSI”)
benefits under Title XVI, alleging an onset of disability
date of April 25, 2009. (Docket 10 ¶¶ 4 & 11). On
June 12, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Short
Horn was not disabled. Id. ¶¶ 8 & 116;
see also Administrative Record at pp. 20-34
(hereinafter “AR at p. ___”). The Appeals Council
denied Mr. Short Horn's request for review and affirmed
the ALJ's decision. (Docket 10 ¶ 8). The ALJ's
decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration. It is from this
decision which Mr. Short Horn timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
June 12, 2015, that Mr. Short Horn was not “under a
disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act
since July 28, 2009, the date the application was filed
[through June 12, 2015]” is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p. 21); see
also Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir.
2001) (“By statute, the findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.”) (internal quotation
marks and brackets omitted) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
Commissioner's findings must be upheld if they are
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Choate v. Barnhart, 457
F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006); Howard, 255 F.3d at
580. The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to
determine if an error of law was committed. Smith v.
Sullivan, 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted).
review of a decision to deny benefits is “more than an
examination of the record for the existence of substantial
evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision . . .
[the court must also] take into account whatever in the
record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reed v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir.
not the role of the court to re-weigh the evidence and, even
if this court would decide the case differently, it cannot
reverse the Commissioner's decision if that decision is
supported by good reason and is based on substantial
evidence. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801
(8th Cir. 2005). A reviewing court may not reverse the
Commissioner's decision “ ‘merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.' ” Reed, 399 F.3d at 920
(quoting Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th
Cir. 1995)). Issues of law are reviewed de novo with
deference given to the Commissioner's construction of the
Social Security Act. See Smith, 982 F.2d at 311.
Social Security Administration established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and entitled to SSI benefits under
Title XVI. 20 CFR § 416.920(a). If the ALJ determines a
claimant is not disabled at any step of the process, the
evaluation does not proceed to the next step as the claimant
is not disabled. Id. The five-step sequential
evaluation process is:
(1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a
“substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe impairment-one 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 to perform . . . past relevant work; and
(5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are other jobs in
the national economy the claimant can perform.
Baker v. Apfel, 159 F.3d 1140, 1143-44 (8th Cir.
1998). The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation
required by the Social Security Administration regulations.
(AR at pp. 21-22).
challenges the ALJ's decision on a number of grounds. The
issues posed by him are:
1. Whether Mr. Short Horn's bilateral knee impairments
met the criteria of Listing 1.02;
2. Whether the ALJ's assessment of opinion testimony was
in accord with the legal standard and the substantial
evidence in the record;
3. Whether the ALJ's assessment of Mr. Short Horn's
credibility was in accord with the legal standard and the
substantial evidence in the record;
4. Whether the ALJ's assessment of residual function
capacity was in accord with the legal standard and the
substantial evidence in the record; and 5. Whether the
ALJ's decision at step five was in accord with the legal
standard and the substantial evidence in the record.
(Docket 12 at p. 7). Plaintiff's challenges to the
ALJ's decision will be addressed as necessary.
Whether Mr. Short Horn's bilateral knee
impairments met the criteria of Listing 1.02
two, the ALJ found Mr. Short Horn had the following severe
impairments: “bilateral knee disorder, blindness in the
right eye, and bilateral elbow disorder.” (Docket 10
¶ 110). At step three, the ALJ determines whether
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets
or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Appendix
1”). 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and
404.1526. If a claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments meets or medically equals the criteria for one of
the impairments listed and meets the duration requirement of
20 CFR § 404.1509, the claimant is considered disabled.
At that point the Commissioner “acknowledges [the
impairment or combination of impairments] are so severe as to
preclude substantial gainful activity. . . . [and] the
claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled.”
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987).
determined Mr. Short Horn did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments which met or were medically equal
to one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1. (Docket 10
¶ 111). The ALJ indicated he considered Mr. Short
Horn's impairments individually and in combination, but
no treating or examining physician found equivalent severity
to any listed impairment. Id.
Short Horn objects to the ALJ's step three conclusion.
(Docket 12 at pp. 7-16). He argues the ALJ's
“failure to consider Listing 1.02-when evidence in the
record met or equaled Listing 1.02 criteria-and to state
reviewable reasons for his step three determination, deprives
the reviewing court of any way to ascertain on this record
whether the ALJ''s denial of Mr. Short Horn's
claim at step three was supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. at p. 16.
Commissioner counters that Mr. Short Horn “failed to
satisfy his burden of proving that he met Listing
1.02.” (Docket 14 at p. 4). The Commissioner argues
that “[t]o meet a listing, an impairment must meet all
of the listing's specified criteria. . . . [And]
Plaintiff has failed to prove he was unable to ambulate
effectively. . . . Objective medical evidence also fails to
support Plaintiff's claim he was unable to ambulate
effectively for a continuous 12 months.”Id. at
pp. 4-5 & 7. Finally, the Commissioner submits that