United States District Court, D. Minnesota
BOWBEER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Brian S. seeks review
of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (the
“Commissioner”) denial of the claimant's
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). See generally (Compl. [Doc. No.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
(Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Doc. No. 13]; Def.'s Mot.
for Summ. J. [Doc. No. 16].) For the reasons set forth below,
the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be
denied and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
will be granted.
January 30, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI
benefits. See, e.g., (R. 10, 86). Plaintiff alleged
the he was disabled due to “Multiple conditions”;
“Arthritis-Whole Body”; “Knee Pain”;
and “Low Back Pain.” See, e.g.,
(id. at 86.) Plaintiff asserted an alleged onset
date (“AOD”) of January 1, 2009. (Id.)
issued an unfavorable decision on May 23, 2017. (R. 10-21).
Pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation procedure
outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a), the ALJ first
determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since at least his AOD of January 1, 2009.
(Id. 12.) At step two, the ALJ determined that the
claimant had severe impairments of “arthritis and
organic mental disorder.” (Id. 12.) The ALJ
found at the third step that no impairment or combination of
impairments met or medically equaled the severity of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix
1. (Id. 13-14).
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”)
[T]o perform light work . . . except he requires a sit/stand
option every half hour and he would need to move about for
three minutes while remaining on task. He can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs. He can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. He is limited to performing simple, routine tasks and
making simple work related decisions. He can have occasional,
brief, and superficial interactions with the public,
coworkers, and supervisors.
(Id. 14.) The ALJ also found at step four that
Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work as a
progressive assembler and fitter and meat clerk.
(Id. 19.) The ALJ based this conclusion largely on
testimony from the vocational expert that “an
individual of the claimant's age, education, vocational
background, and residual functional capacity” was
incapable of performing such work. (Id.)
five, however, considering Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff could work
in jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy, including: housekeeping cleaner, small products
assembler, and bench assembler. (Id. 20.) Thus, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.
sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied his
request. (R. 1- 6). The ALJ's decision therefore became
the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id.);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review.
contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the claimant's
impairments and in determining that the claimant is not
disabled because, inter alia, the ALJ did not
provide good specific reasons-supported by the evidence-to
explain why opinions of Mary Lamusga, RN, PAC, A. Neil
Johnson, MD, Ed Modahl, MS.Ed., LP, and Sheila Froemming, MD,
were discounted. (Pl.'s Mem. in Sup. at 5-18.) Plaintiff
also asserts that if those opinions were afforded proper
weight, the ALJ's determination is not supported by
substantial evidence. (Id. at 9-10.) Consequently,
Plaintiff requests that the case be remanded to the
Commissioner for further administrative proceedings pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Id. at 18.)
Plaintiff's Background and Testimony
time of his AOD, Plaintiff was thirty-eight years old, and
therefore a “younger person.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.963(c). (R. 86.) Plaintiff has a high school education,
“but all through school” he attended special
education. (Id. 39; see also Id. 242.) From
April 1997 until January 2003, Plaintiff worked as an
assembler for a landscaping business. (Id. 265.)
From September 2003 until November 2004, Plaintiff worked as
a meat processor. (Id.) There is no reported
employment income after 2004. (Id. 225.)
March 2017 hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that
he was single and living in a home by himself, but that he
was receiving a relative's help to handle the mortgage
payments because he “can't afford [them].”
(Id. 39.) At home, he cares for two dogs and a cat.
(Id. 49-50.) To pass the time, he watches TV,
sitting as long as he can before getting up and moving
around, and when it's nice out, he tries “to get
what exercise I can get.” (Id. 51.) Plaintiff
also testified that he is able to wash and dress himself, but
he uses a chair in the shower so he does not need to stand,
except when he washes his hair. (Id. 51.) Plaintiff
also discussed other assistive devices in his home, including
rails on the walls, and an elevated toilet seat.
(Id. 51.) In response to questioning by his
attorney, Plaintiff also testified that a cane that Plaintiff
had with him was prescribed by a doctor, and that he has it
with him all the time. (Id. 46.) Plaintiff testified
that he could only walk about 200 feet with or without his
cane. (Id. 55.)
further testified that he had some trouble reading but had
some assistance in that respect. (Id. 39-40.) That
said, Plaintiff stated that he had no problems making change
at a store, paying bills, or otherwise handling his finances.
(Id. 40.) With respect to other activities of daily
living, Plaintiff testified that he does dishes, but that he
has “to be very careful because I drop them and break
them” because he has trouble making a fist and holding
on to things. (Id. 42-43.) He also stated that he
does his own shopping, although he has to “lean up
against the grocery cart” to help him mitigate the pain
in his lower extremities and he makes frequent stops as he
walks down the aisles. (Id. 44-45.) He also
mentioned trying to use electronic carts and scooters when
shopping, but noted that oftentimes they are not available.
(Id. 45.) Plaintiff also testified that his
impairments now prevent him from hunting or fishing and he
has not engaged in those activities in at least five years.
testified that he is able to prepare his own meals, and uses
a grill during the summer, although he needs to be seated
while using the grill. (Id. 52.) With respect to his
cooking, Plaintiff stated that he does not follow recipes; he
will “just throw things together and make it taste
good.” (Id.) Plaintiff also testified that
although he had some help with reading, he received no help
with grocery shopping, doing household chores, yard work, or
paying bills. (Id.) In response to questions from
the ALJ, Plaintiff stated that it “takes me all day to
mow my grass because I mow for a while.” (Id.
53.) Plaintiff estimated that his lawn was about an acre and
that he used a riding mower to mow his lawn. (Id.)
respect to other aspects of his impairments, Plaintiff stated
that he has pain in his knees, back, wrists “going into
[his] shoulders” and that his “ankles are
starting to pop.” (Id. 42.) Plaintiff
testified that an unnamed doctor told him his arthritis was
“unbelievable, ” and because of his arthritis he
was unable to bend one of his fingers and one wrist
“don't move.” (Id. 43.) He stated
that he cannot sit for too long and needs to get up from time
to time to manage his pain. (Id. 45-46.) He takes
medication three times per day as prescribed by his doctors
to manage his arthritis but that “it's not doing me
no good yet.” (Id. 47.) Plaintiff stated that
his sleep is sometimes interrupted by his pain. (Id.
Plaintiff's Functional Reports
of his application for benefits, Plaintiff completed two
functional reports in 2015. See, e.g., (id.
246-63, 282-89.) In both reports, Plaintiff indicated no
problems with many activities of daily living, including
dressing, bathing, shaving, using the toilet, and attending
to other personal care needs. (Id. 249, 283.) He
stated he cooked daily, prepared each meal, which were
“complete meals with several courses.”
(Id. 250; see also Id. 284.) Plaintiff
noted it could take thirty minutes to an hour to prepare each
meal. (Id. 250.) Plaintiff was able to clean, do
laundry, mow his lawn, and remove snow, and these tasks could
take twenty minutes to two-and-a-half hours. (Id.
250; see also id. 284.) Plaintiff also indicated
that he could drive and shop for himself for both food and
clothing. (Id. 251, 285.) Plaintiff stated that his