United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
CHARLES D. MORSE PLAINTIFF
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT
ERIN L. WIEDEMANN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Charles D. Morse, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of a decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying his claim for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits under the provision of
Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). In this judicial
review, the Court must determine whether there is substantial
evidence in the administrative record to support the
Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. §
protectively filed his current application for DIB on
September 4, 2013, alleging an inability to work since July
29, 2012, due to diabetes, scoliosis of spine, high blood
pressure, and neuropathy of feet. (Doc. 11, pp. 68-69). For
DIB purposes, Plaintiff maintained insured status through
December 31, 2017. (Doc. 11, p. 203). An administrative
hearing was held on July 8, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared
with counsel and testified. (Doc. 11, pp. 44-67).
written decision dated December 24, 2014, the ALJ found that
during the relevant time period, Plaintiff had severe
impairments of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and obesity.
(Doc. 11, p. 32). However, after reviewing all of the
evidence presented, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or equal the level of severity of
any impairment listed in the Listing of Impairments found in
Appendix I, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (Doc. 11, pp.
34-35). The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform medium work as defined
in 20 CFR § 404.1567(c), except that Plaintiff could
only frequently climb, balance, crawl, kneel, stoop, and
crouch. (Doc. 11, pp. 35-39). With the help of a vocational
expert (VE), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of
performing past relevant work as an appliance assembler as it
is actually and generally performed. (Doc. 11, p. 39).
then requested a review of the hearing decision by the
Appeals Council, which denied that request on April 4, 2016.
(Doc. 11, pp. 5-8, 26). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this
action. (Doc. 1). This case is before the undersigned
pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 6). Both
parties have filed appeal briefs, and the case is now ready
for decision. (Docs. 12, 13).
Court has reviewed the entire transcript. The complete set of
facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs,
and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
Court's role is to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. Ramirez v.
Barnhart, 292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial
evidence is less than a preponderance but it is enough that a
reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the
Commissioner's decision. The ALJ's decision must be
affirmed if the record contains substantial evidence to
support it. Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966
(8th Cir. 2003). As long as there is substantial evidence in
the record that supports the Commissioner's decision, the
Court may not reverse it simply because substantial evidence
exists in the record that would have supported a contrary
outcome, or because the Court would have decided the case
differently. Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747
(8th Cir. 2001). In other words, if after reviewing the
record it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from
the evidence and one of those positions represents the
findings of the ALJ, the decision of the ALJ must be
affirmed. Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th
well-established that a claimant for Social Security
disability benefits has the burden of proving his disability
by establishing a physical or mental disability that has
lasted at least one year and that prevents him from engaging
in any substantial gainful activity. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); see
also 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c
(a)(3)(A). The Act defines “physical or mental
impairment” as “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(3). A Plaintiff must show that his disability, not
simply his impairment, has lasted for at least twelve
Commissioner's regulations require her to apply a
five-step sequential evaluation process to each claim for
disability benefits: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since filing his claim; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe physical and/or mental
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment(s) meet or equal an impairment in the listings;
(4) whether the impairment(s) prevent the claimant from doing
past relevant work; and, (5) whether the claimant is able to
perform other work in the national economy given his age,
education, and experience. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). Only if the final stage is reached does the
fact finder consider the Plaintiff's age, education, and
work experience in light of his residual functional capacity.
See McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138, 1141-42 (8th
Cir. 1982), abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v.
Apfel, 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R.
argues the following issues on appeal: 1) the ALJ failed to
fully and fairly develop the record; 2) the ALJ erred in
finding that Plaintiff's shoulder and leg pain were not
severe impairments; 3) the ALJ erred in his RFC
determination; and 4) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff
could perform his past relevant work. (Doc.
Full and Fair Development of the Record:
argues that the ALJ erred in failing to fully develop the
record by failing to order a consultative orthopedic
examination along with a medical source statement outlining
Plaintiff's specific physical limitations as requested by
Plaintiff's counsel. (Doc. 12, p. 3). The ALJ has a duty
to fully and fairly develop the record. See Frankl v.
Shalala, 47 F.3d 935, 938 (8th Cir. 1995). The ALJ's
duty to fully and fairly develop the record is independent of
Plaintiff's burden to press his case. Vossen v.
Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1016 (8th Cir. 2010). The ALJ,
however, is not required to function as Plaintiff's
substitute counsel, but only to develop a reasonably complete
record. “Reversal due to failure to develop the record
is only warranted where such failure is unfair or
prejudicial.” Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484,
488 (8th Cir. 1995). “While an ALJ does have a duty to
develop the record, this duty is not never-ending and an ALJ
is not required to disprove every possible impairment.”
McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 612 (8th Cir. 2011).
case, the record consists of case analyses and psychiatric
review techniques completed by non-examining medical
consultants, a General Physical Examination form completed by
an examining physician, and Plaintiff's medical records,
which included clinic notes from treating physicians and
imaging results. After reviewing the entire record, the Court
finds the record before the ALJ contained the evidence
required to make a full and informed decision regarding