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Walker v. Berryhill

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

February 14, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         Derek Walker (“Walker”) received social security disability benefits as a child. (R. at 162). On redetermination as an adult, he was found no longer disabled, and his benefits ceased in May 2011. (R. at 170). After a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied the continuation of benefits. (R. at 126). The Appeals Council remanded, and the ALJ again denied benefits. (R. at 133-34, 149). The Appeals Council again remanded. (R. at 158-60). At the third administrative hearing, the ALJ again denied benefits. (R. at 22). The Appeals Council denied Walker's request for review. (R. at 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Walker has requested judicial review.[2]For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision.

         I. The Commissioner's Decision

         The ALJ found that Walker had the severe impairments of degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorder, learning disabilities in reading and writing, and obesity. (R. at 13). Based on these impairments, the ALJ concluded that Walker had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, as long as it was further limited to simple, routine work where reading and writing is not required, work tasks are provided with demonstrations, and contact is only occasionally required with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. (R. at 15). Because Walker had no past relevant work, the ALJ took testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), who testified that Walker could perform jobs such as night janitor or dishwasher. (R. at 20-21). After considering the entire record, the ALJ held that Walker was not disabled. (R. at 22).

         II. Discussion

         Walker argues that the Commissioner's decision must be reversed because the ALJ: (1) did not sufficiently consider Walker's obesity; (2) failed to find Walker's knee pain to be a severe impairment; (3) erred in determining Walker's RFC; and (4) failed to ask a proper hypothetical question to the VE.

         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 whether it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:

“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; we also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.”

Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

         A. The ALJ Properly Considered Walker's Obesity

         According to Walker, the ALJ failed to fully consider his obesity in denying benefits. To the contrary, the ALJ: (1) found that Walker's obesity was a “severe” impairment (R. at 13); (2) noted that he was six feet, one inch, weighed 289 pounds, and had a BMI of 38.12, which is classified as “class 2 obesity” (R. at 16, 18); (3) stated that she considered the impact of Walker's obesity on his other impairments (R. at 18); and (4) stated that she had considered the effect of his obesity on his ability to sustain activity on a regular and continuing basis (R. at 18). The ALJ expressly stated that she was evaluating Walker's obesity in compliance with the governing ruling, SSR 02-1p, which requires the consideration of a claimant's obesity at all steps of the sequential evaluation, alone and in combination with other impairments. (R. at 18). See SSR 02-1p, 2002 WL 34686281 (Sept. 12, 2002).

         The medical records contain no notation of additional limitations related to Walker's obesity. Furthermore, although Walker alleges that his obesity “might contribute to or exacerbate” his knee and back problems, he has not explained how further consideration of his obesity would have changed the ALJ's RFC determination or any other aspect of her analysis. See Robson v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 389, 393 (8th Cir. 2008). Because the ALJ properly considered and evaluated Walker's obesity in deciding that he was not disabled, the Court concludes that Walker's first argument is without merit.

         B. The ALJ Properly Considered Walker's Knee Pain

         Walker next argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find his knee pain to be a severe impairment.

         The claimant has the burden of proving that an impairment is “severe.” By definition, a “severe impairment” must “significantly limit” a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707-08 (8th Cir. 2007); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a). An impairment is not “severe” if it would have ...

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