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Moore v. Social Security Administration

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

May 23, 2018



         I. Procedural History:

         On November 10, 2014, Bobby Moore applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on August 29, 2013. (Tr. at 19) Mr. Moore's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Mr. Moore's application. (Tr. at 31) Mr. Moore requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 1) Therefore, the ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Moore filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying him benefits.[1]

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Moore had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset of his alleged disability, August 29, 2013. (Tr. at 21) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Moore had the following severe impairments: neuropathy, left hip avascular necrosis, right knee osteonecrosis, moderate obesity, and depression. (Tr. at 20)

         After finding that Mr. Moore's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 20), the ALJ determined that Mr. Moore had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at the light exertional level, with some limitations. He could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and could only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, or stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. (Tr. at 22) He could have no exposure to unprotected heights, and could no more than frequently handle and finger. Id. He would be limited to unskilled work where the supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete and the tasks are simple, routine, and repetitive. Id. His profile required jobs at the SVP 1 or 2 level that could be learned in 30 days. Id. He would need the option to sit or stand at will. Id.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Moore was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. at 27) At step five, however, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Mr. Moore's age, education, work experience and RFC, he was capable of performing work in the national economy as cashier II or storage facility rental clerk. (Tr. at 28) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Mr. Moore was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         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 “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted). In making this determination, 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) (citation omitted).

         B. Mr. Moore's Arguments on Appeal

         In this appeal, Mr. Moore contends that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. He argues that the RFC was incorrect because he could not perform work at the light level, even with the postural limitations included by the ALJ. He further asserts that complications from obesity called for a finding of disability.

         Mr. Moore's argument focuses on arm, hip, knee, and shoulder problems. A nerve conduction study in December 2010 revealed mild carpal tunnel syndrome and mild sensory polyneuropathy in his extremities. (Tr. at 412) An x-ray of Mr. Moore's knee in May 2011 showed mild narrowing in the lateral compartment but no other bony abnormalities. (Tr. at 396-397) Left hip x-rays showed no acute abnormalities. Id. A lack of clinical findings may support an ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001). In May 2011, Mr. Moore was diagnosed with left iliotibial band syndrome. (Tr. at 349-351)

         After being diagnosed with avascular necrosis in his hip, Mr. Moore underwent left hip core decompression in October 2011. (Tr. at 292-293) He reported feeling better later that month. (Tr. a 338-339) Improvement in strength and diminished pain supports an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled. See Lochner v. Sullivan, 968, F.2d 725, 728 (8th Cir. 1992). Mr. Moore's surgeon opined that Mr. Moore could bear weight as tolerated since he had no increase in pain. (Tr. at 332-333)

         A left knee x-ray in October 2013 showed some arthritic changes but no fractures. (Tr. at 392) In January 2014, Mr. Moore complained of shoulder tenderness and exhibited reduced range of motion. (Tr. at 310-312) An injection and rest improved ...

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