United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER 
M. BODENHAUSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Christopher (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant”)
denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under the Social Security Act.
See 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Because
Defendant's decision is supported by substantial evidence
and correctly applies the governing law, as discussed below,
it is affirmed. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
is a fifty-four year-old woman who claims that she became
disabled on July 9, 2012, due to several disorders, including
fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, protruding discs in
her lower back, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, sleep
apnea, obesity, mitro-valve prolapse, and paralysis of her
diaphragm on the right side. (Tr. 198, 238) Plaintiff has
prior work experience as a caseworker for the Missouri
Division of Family Services. (Tr. 233)
applied for disability benefits on July 17, 2012. Her initial
claim was denied on October 3, 2012. (Tr. 99) Thereafter,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) to contest the denial. (Tr. 111-12)
On February 27, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing at which
Plaintiff appeared (with counsel) and testified, along with a
vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 33-76) On April 7,
2014, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that Plaintiff was
not disabled. (Tr. 15-27) On May 7, 2014, Plaintiff
petitioned for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 8-9)
The Appeals Council denied review on July 10, 2015. (Tr. 1-6)
The decision of the ALJ is therefore final and the case is
ready for disposition in this Court. See 42 U.S.C.
arriving at her decision, the ALJ followed the required five
step inquiry. At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 9,
2012. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease, and
fibromyalgia. At step three, the ALJ held
Plaintiff's impairments did not rise to the level of a
Listing. See 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. (Tr. 17, 19)
arriving at step four, the ALJ reviewed the entire record and
concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a range of work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567 except
she can frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; she can
occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds; she can stand or walk
for approximately 2 hours out of an 8-hour day; she can sit
for up to approximately 6 hours out of an 8-hour day; she can
sit for 2 hours at one time and then she needs to stand or
walk around no more than 5 minutes, provided that she is not
off task more than 10 percent; she can occasionally push or
pull or operate foot controls with bilateral lower
extremities; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she
cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; she can
occasionally balance; she occasionally can stoop, kneel,
crouch, or crawl; she must avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme heat and humidity; and she must avoid workplace
hazards, which is defined as unshielded moving machinery and
making this RFC determination, the ALJ made several
credibility findings and analyzed several pieces of opinion
evidence. First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of her impairments were “not
credible.” (Tr. 21) In substance, Plaintiff's
testimony asserted disabling levels of symptomatology, such
as a constant need to lie down, constant “hot burning
pain” in her back, and the inability to do her past
work because her fibromyalgia medications impair her
concentration. (Tr. 40-46) Plaintiff also testified that her
depression symptoms were “so bad” that it would
be “merciful” if her boyfriend would “just
shoot [her].” (Tr. 50) The ALJ found these assertions
to be “not credible.” (Tr. 21)
the opinion evidence, the ALJ discounted the opinion of Dr.
Linda Hunt, M.D. (Tr. 23) Plaintiff saw Dr. Hunt for
treatment of her fibromyalgia on one occasion, and submitted
a medical source statement and a fibromyalgia questionnaire
that asserted Plaintiff had disabling limitations.
(Id.) On the other hand, the ALJ gave
“significant weight” to two state agency medical
consultants who reviewed Plaintiff's medical records: Dr.
Rebecca Wotherspoon, M.D. (whose opinion generally tracked
the findings of the ALJ's RFC) and Dr. John Pataki, M.D.
(who opined that Plaintiff could work at the Sedentary level
and opined that Plaintiff's depression was non-severe).
determining Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ asked the vocational
expert (“VE”) whether someone with those
limitations could perform their past work, and the VE
testified affirmatively. (Tr. 71) At step four, therefore,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing all of
her relevant past work. (Tr. 24) This includes work as an
administrative clerk, supervisor, survey worker and
caseworker. (Tr. 25) The ALJ then made an alternative finding
at step five. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff is capable of performing other jobs in the
national economy, including work as a general clerk, a file
clerk, and a route delivery clerk. (Tr. 26) Therefore, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the law.
noted above, after the ALJ's ruling, Plaintiff sought
review in the Appeals Council, and submitted arguments in
support of the appeal. (Tr. 7-11) The Appeals Council
considered Plaintiff's legal brief, but found that it did
not provide a basis to review the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
1-6) Plaintiff then appealed to this Court, urging reversal
of the ALS's decision.
Standard of Review and Legal Framework
be eligible for [disability] benefits, [Plaintiff] must prove
that [she] is disabled… .” Baker v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555
(8th Cir. 1992); see also Pearsall v. Massanari, 274
F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). A disability is defined as
the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant will
be found to have a disability “only if his physical or
mental impairments are of such severity that he is not only
unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his
age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind
of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 (d)(2)(A) and
1382c(a)(3)(B); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987).
regulations promulgated by the Commissioner, the ALJ follows
a five-step process in determining whether a claimant is
disabled. “During the process the ALJ must determine:
‘1) whether the claimant is currently employed; 2)
whether the claimant is severely impaired; 3) whether the
impairment is, or is comparable to, a listed impairment; 4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and if
not 5) whether the claimant can perform any other kind of
work.'” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923,
928 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Hacker v. Barnhart, 459
F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir. 2006)). “If, at any point in
the five-step process the claimant fails to meet the
criteria, the claimant is determined not to be disabled and
the process ends.” Id. (citing Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005)); see
also Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 921 (8th Cir.
Eight Circuit has repeatedly emphasized that a district
court's review of an ALJ's disability determination
is intended to be narrow and that courts should “defer
heavily to the findings and conclusions of the Social
Security Administration.” Hurd v. Astrue, 621
F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Howard v.
Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir. 2001)). The
ALJ's findings should be affirmed if they are supported
by “substantial evidence” on the record as a
whole. See Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th
Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept
it as adequate to support a decision.” Juszczyk v.
Astrue, 542 F.3d 626, 631 (8th Cir.2008).
this deferential stance, a district court's review must
be “more than an examination of the record for the
existence of substantial evidence in support of the
Commissioner's decision.” Beckley v.
Apfel,152 F.3d 1056, 1059 (8th Cir. 1998). The district
court must “also take into account whatever in the
record fairly detracts from that decision.”
Id. Specifically, in reviewing ...