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Shepard v. Saul

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

January 10, 2020

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.




         This recommended disposition has been submitted to United States District Judge Lee P. Rudofsky. The parties may file specific objections to these findings and recommendations and must provide the factual or legal basis for each objection. The objections must be filed with the Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. A copy must be served on the opposing party. The district judge, even in the absence of objections, may reject these proposed findings and recommendations in whole or in part.


         Plaintiff, Matthew Shepard, has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny his claim for supplemental security income. Both parties have submitted appeal briefs and the case is now ready for a decision.

         A 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. Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). 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); Reynolds v. Chater, 82 F.3d 254, 257 (8th Cir. 1996). In assessing the substantiality of the evidence, courts must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it; a court may not, however, reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision. Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004); Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).

         The history of the administrative proceedings and the statement of facts relevant to this decision are contained in the respective briefs and are not in serious dispute. Therefore, they will not be repeated in this opinion except as necessary. After careful consideration of the record as a whole, I find the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff is young. He was thirty-five at the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 254.) He is a high school graduate, (Id.), and has past relevant work as a hand packager. (Tr. 56.)

         The Administrative Law Judge[1] (ALJ) found Mr. Shepard has “severe” impairments in the form of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), migraine headaches, anxiety, and depression, (Tr. 49), but did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 50-52.)

         The ALJ determined Mr. Shepard had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a reduced range of sedentary work. (Tr. 52.) Given this RFC, the ALJ determined Mr. Shepard is no longer able to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 56.) Therefore, the ALJ employed the services of a vocational expert to determine whether jobs existed that Mr. Shepard could perform despite his impairments. (Tr. 265-268.) Based in part on the vocational expert testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing the jobs of document preparer and addressor. (Tr. 57.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined Mr. Shepard was not disabled. (Id.)

         The Appeals Council received additional evidence but denied Mr. Shepard's request for a review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-4.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint initiating this review. (Doc. No. 2.)

         In support of his Complaint, Mr. Shepard argues that the ALJ erred by not finding his irritable bowel syndrome, throat problems, and bipolar disorder are “severe” impairments. (Doc. No. 11 at 5-7.) Plaintiff also says that the ALJ erred at step 5 of his analysis but fails to develop any argument supporting this claim. (Id.)

         A “severe” impairment is one that significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997); Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 821 (8th Cir. 1992); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c) (2007). It has “more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to work.” Hudson v. Bowen, 870 F.2d at 1396; accord, Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007); Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007).

(a) Non-severe impairment(s). An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ...

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