United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
Burt Butler seeks review of the Commissioner's decision
to deny his claims for disability benefits. Mr. Butler filed
an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), alleging disability
beginning July 24, 2012. (Tr. 10) Mr. Butler's claims
were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Id. The ALJ determined that Mr.
Butler had not been under a disability as defined by the Act.
(Tr. 19) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Butler's request
for review, thus making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. (Tr. 1) Mr. Butler seeks
judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of his
application. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the
Magistrate Judge, and the case is ripe for decision.
found that Mr. Butler met the insured status requirements of
the Act through September 30, 2016. (Tr. 12) At step one of
the sequential five-step evaluation process, the ALJ found
that Mr. Butler had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset date of July 24, 2012.
Id. The ALJ concluded at step two that Mr. Butler
had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, affective disorder, and anxiety
disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that
Mr. Butler's impairments did not meet or equal a listed
impairment. (Tr. 13) 20 CFR Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1(20
CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Butler
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work, but with added limitations. (Tr. 14) The
claimant would be limited to simple, routine, repetitive
tasks where interpersonal contact is incidental to work
performed and supervision is simple, direct, and concrete.
Id. The ALJ considered the medical evidence, as well
as Mr. Butler's complaints regarding his pain, treatment,
and medication in arriving at the conclusion that he could
perform light work with additional limitations. (Tr. 15)
Because the demands of Mr. Butler's past work would not
exceed his residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded at
step four that Mr. Butler was capable of performing past
relevant work. (Tr. 19) Consequently, the ALJ found that Mr.
Butler was not disabled. Id.
Standard of Review
Butler raises two points on appeal: first, that the ALJ erred
in finding Mr. Butler did not meet listing 1.04; and second,
that the ALJ erred in finding that Mr. Butler had the
residual functioning capacity to perform past work at the
light exertional level. The Court's role is to determine
whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d
1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial
evidence” in this context means less than a
preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v.
Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other
words, it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.”
Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not
only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision,
but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court
cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because
substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.”
Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997)
(quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's Step 3 findings
Butler argues that the ALJ erred in finding he did not meet a
listing at step three. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) The ALJ addressed listings
12.04 and 12.06, those assigned to affective disorders. Mr.
Butler makes no claim regarding the finding that he did not
meet listings 12.04 and 12.06, so that argument is waived.
Mr. Butler asserts that he did meet listing 1.04. (#10 at 5)
The ALJ did not address listing 1.04, but failure to address
a specific listing is not reversible error if the record
supports the overall conclusion. Pepper ex rel. Gardner v.
Barnhart, 342 F.3d 853, 855 (8th Cir. 2003) For his argument,
Mr. Butler only recited the listing language, which gives
various examples of conditions that qualify when a nerve root
is compromised and the requirements of paragraphs A, B, or C
are met. Id. at 6. Spinal stenosis is one example of
such condition, and Mr. Butler relies upon the MRI in the
record to show he had “mild spinal canal
stenosis.” (Tr. 397) Mr. Butler also had a positive
straight-leg raise on the left at 10-15 degrees and on the
right at 40 degrees, according to records from Caraway
Medical Center. (Tr. 377, 378) Although Mr. Butler did not
set forth which paragraph of listing 1.04 he met, the Court
infers that he believes he met either paragraph A or
paragraph C, based on the diagnosed mild spinal stenosis and
positive straight-leg raise.
A requires: 1) evidence of nerve root compression
characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain; 2)
limitation of motion of the spine; 3) motor loss accompanied
by sensory or reflex loss; and 4) if there is involvement of
the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test. 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 § 1.04. Paragraph C
requires lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in
pseudoclaudication, established by findings upon appropriate
medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic
nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to
ambulate effectively, as defined in 1.00B(2)(b). Id.
meet a listing, an impairment must meet all of the
listing's specified criteria.” Carlson v.
Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2010). The evidence
in the record does not show that Mr. Butler met all of the
requirements of Listing 1.04. Straight-leg raise was negative
in 2012 according to Dr. Troxel, the consultative medical
examiner. (Tr. 351) Mr. Butler's range of motion was
unlimited at that time. Id. Dr. Troxel also noted
that Mr. Butler was able to “stand/walk without
assistive devices.” (Tr. 352)
Butler's family doctor, Dr. Joseph Pierce, M.D., observed
on February 4, 2014 that Mr. Butler had a normal gait and
station, full range of motion and strength in extremities,
normal muscle tone, and normal sensory examination and could
participate in an exercise program. (Tr. 13-19, 372) At a
March 4, 2014 visit to Dr. Pierce, Mr. Butler did not
complain of any back pain or abnormalities. Dr. Pierce
observed that Mr. Butler's lumbar radiculopathy had
deteriorated, but that he had normal gait, strength, and
muscle tone, with no joint swelling or effusions. (Tr. 367)
Although Mr. Butler complained of radiating pain from his
neck to his knee that “hurt[s] all the time, ”
the medical evidence renders Mr. Butler's complaints not
entirely credible. Listing 1.04 requires medical
documentation, not just subjective testimony, to prove a
claimant met the listing.
should be noted that the medical evidence concerning Mr.
Butler's back injury is thin; he submitted only two
exhibits on the issue. Ex. 7F and 8F. A claimant has the
burden of proving that an impairment (or combination of
impairments) meets or equals a listing. Johnson v.
Barnhart,390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). Mr.
Butler's attorney admitted at the hearing that
“he's not had a whole lot of time to get a whole
lot of medical records, ” even though nearly two years
passed between the initial application and the hearing date.
(Tr. 27) Mr. Butler had the opportunity to submit more
substantial medical ...