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Cooper v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 30, 2017

THERESE COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Therese Cooper's (“Cooper”) application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381-85.

         I. Background

         On November 17, 2011, Cooper protectively filed an application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2010. (Tr. 119-31) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her claims on January 6, 2012. (Tr. 60-66) She filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 67-69). Following a hearing on April 24, 2014 (Tr. 28-58), the ALJ issued a written decision on May 12, 2014, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 10-27) Cooper requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 7-9) On September 18, 2015, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. 1-6) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         Cooper filed this appeal on November 25, 2015. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 10) Cooper filed a brief in support of her Complaint on July 26, 2016 (Doc. No. 22) and the Commissioner filed a brief in support of the answer on October 26, 2016 (Doc. No. 29). Cooper did not file a reply.

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Cooper met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability (Tr. 15). The ALJ found Cooper had the severe impairments of bilateral knee degenerative joint disease (“DJD”), asthma, and obesity, but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 15-17).

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Cooper had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, defined as: “can occasionally lift up to ten pounds; can frequently lift or carry less than ten pounds; can sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; can stand or walk two hours in an eight-hour workday; can perform work that does not require climbing on ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than occasional climbing on ramps or stairs; no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; should avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as gas, fumes, odors, dust, and workspaces with poor ventilation; should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, and humidity; should avoid exposure to work hazards, such as unprotected heights and being around dangerous, moving machinery; and requires a sit/stand option allowing a change in position every thirty to sixty minutes for a few minutes at a time while remaining at the work station and by alternating positions would not be off task or interfere with production for more than ten percent of the work day” (Tr. 17-21).

         The ALJ found Cooper unable to perform any past relevant work, but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform (Tr. 21-22). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Cooper is not disabled (Tr. 23).

         III. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of the relevant evidence before the ALJ.

         A. Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on April 24, 2014 (Tr. 28-58). The ALJ heard testimony from Cooper, who was represented at the hearing by counsel, and John F. Magellan, a vocational expert.

         1. Cooper's testimony

         Cooper was 48 years old at the time of the hearing. She completed the 12th grade. (Tr. 49) Cooper last worked full-time in November 2010 as a pizza delivery driver for Imo's (Tr. 45, 48). She testified she was having problems with her knees while working at Imo's but was “let go” based on a dispute that “didn't really” have anything to do with her knees (Tr. 44). According to Cooper, she filed for disability because she lost her job with Imo's and was having problems with her knees and ...


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