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Miller v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

August 30, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         Plaintiff William Miller has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claims for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs, and the case is ready for decision.[1]

         The Court's function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and free of legal error. Papesh v. Colvin, 786 F.3d 1126, 1131(8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012).


         Mr. Miller alleged that he became limited in his ability to work due to pain from multiple bullet wounds, hypertension, migraines, and a learning disability. (SSA record at 54, 88-93, 192) After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge[2] (“ALJ”) concluded that Mr. Miller had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any time from January 23, 2012, the date the application was filed, through September 25, 2014, the date of his decision. (Id. at 19-20) On April 2, 2015, the Appeals Council denied a request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 3-6) Mr. Miller then filed his complaint initiating this appeal. (Docket #2)

         At the time of the hearing, Mr. Miller was 36 years old and was homeless. (SSA record at 441-42) He had a fifth-grade education and could not read or write. (Id. at 442-44) He had never had steady employment. (Id. at 446-48)

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Mr. Miller had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date and that his borderline intellectual functioning, learning disabilities, anti-social personality disorder, morbid obesity, and history of gunshot wounds were “severe” impairments. (Id. at 12) He found that Mr. Miller's allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible. (Id. at 17-18)

         Based on his findings, the ALJ concluded that, during the relevant time period, Mr. Miller retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, except he could not perform jobs that would require reading or arithmetic skills; he could perform only simple, routine, and repetitive job tasks that require only incidental interpersonal contact; and he would have to have supervision that was simple, direct, and concrete. (Id. at 16) After hearing testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Mr. Miller could perform work as a poultry line picker and loader/unloader. (Id. at 18-19) Thus, the ALJ concluded, Mr. Miller was not disabled. (Id. at 19)

         Mr. Miller's Allegations

         Mr. Miller generally challenges the ALJ's decision, but focuses on the identification of severe impairments and the credibility assessment. He argues that the medical evidence supports more limitation than the ALJ found. For these reasons, he says, substantial evidence does not support the decision.

         Step Two

         At step two of the disability-determination process, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(a)(4)(ii). Mr. Miller contends that the identified impairments are inconsistent with his diagnosis of hypertension; but even if this is true, a diagnosis does not establish a severe impairment. To be severe, an impairment must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) & 416.920(c) (explaining that claimant is not disabled unless he has “impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities”). A diagnosis does not make that showing.

         Mr. Miller has not pointed to evidence in the record indicating his hypertension significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities. In fact, the record indicates Mr. Miller performed odd jobs, such as washing cars and house cleaning, when those jobs are available to him. (Id. at 453) Further, Mr. Miller's treating records indicate that his hypertension could be controlled with medication. (SSA record at 312, 314, 320, 323, 333, 421, 434)

         Moreover, the purpose of step two is to weed out claimants whose abilities to work are not significantly limited. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 156-57 (1987) (O'Connor, J., concurring) (explaining that the Social Security Act authorizes the Commissioner to weed out applications by claimants who cannot possibly meet the statutory definition of disability at step two of the disability-determination process). If the claimant shows he has a severe impairment, the process proceeds to the next step in the analysis. Once the claimant meets his step-two burden, there is no reversible error so long as the record shows that the ALJ considered all of the medical evidence and all of the claimant's impairments. ...

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