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DeMoreuille v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 3, 2016

TAMELA L. DEMOREUILLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING IN PART AND REVERSING IN PART THE COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Plaintiff’s appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner’s decision is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff appeals Defendant’s decision denying her benefits.[1] Plaintiff was born in 1962, completed high school, and has past work experience in secretarial and office manager roles. R. at 12, 15. Plaintiff sought disability insurance benefits due to fibromyalgia and other impairments including depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea. R. at 15-18. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, status post repair of a right shoulder impingement, degenerative disc disease, restless leg syndrome, and internal derangement of the knee. R. at 51. Despite Plaintiff’s severe impairments, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled and found Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[T]o perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except for being limited to sitting four hours at one time without interruption and eight hours total in a workday, standing three hours at one time without interruption and six hours total in an eight hour workday and walking three hours at a time without interruption and six hours total in an eight hour workday. She can reach overhead occasionally, reach all other directions and handle, finger, feel, push and pull continuously with the right hand. She can reach overhead, reach in all other directions, handle, finger, feel, push and pull continuously with the left hand. She can operate foot controls continuously with either foot. She can occasionally climb stairs and crawl, never climb ladders or scaffolds and frequently balance, stoop, kneel and crouch. She can never work at unprotected heights, occasionally be exposed to humidity, wetness and extreme cold and frequently work around moving mechanical parts, operate a motor vehicle and be exposed to dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants, extreme heat and vibration. She can work in very loud noise. She is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive tasks. She can engage in occasional decision making and changes in in [sic] the work setting. She can occasionally interact with the public, coworkers and supervisors.

R. at 55. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined Plaintiff could work as a retail marker, electronic subassembler, and bench assembler. R. at 64.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to a determination whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner’s decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).

         III. Discussion

         A.

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ’s RFC is unsupported as to Plaintiff’s mental impairments because an RFC limiting her to “simple, routine, repetitive tasks” does not address her moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. Doc. #13, at 23. Plaintiff also contends the ALJ failed to include these limitations in his hypothetical question to the VE. Id. The Court agrees.

         The ALJ specifically found that “[w]ith regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the claimant had moderate difficulties.”[2] R. at 54. But limitations associated with this finding were not accurately reflected in the ALJ’s RFC. R. at 55. The ALJ erred in failing to include these moderate limitations in the RFC. See Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted) (holding an “ALJ is required to set forth specifically a claimant’s limitations and determine how those limitations affect her RFC.”). Specifically, the ALJ failed to include moderate limitations associated with Plaintiff’s difficulty in maintaining persistence and pace.

         During the hearing, the ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the VE. In relevant part, the ALJ asked if a person, of the claimant’s age, education, and work experience would be able to do work:

limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks requiring only occasional decision making and occasional changes in the work setting; occasional interaction with the ...

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