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Phillips v. Berryhill

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

February 22, 2017

AMY PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Amy Phillips brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.[1] 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Phillips' multiple severe impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the matter is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural History

         Phillips protectively filed her application for DIB on June 22, 2012. (Tr. 163-69.) She alleged that she became disabled on March 24, 2011, due to generalized anxiety disorder, a pituitary gland tumor, fibromyalgia, insulin dependent diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, asthma, migraines, and chronic fatigue syndrome. (Tr. 163, 188.) Phillips' claim was denied initially. (Tr. 97-100.) Following an administrative hearing, Phillips' claim was denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated March 10, 2014. (Tr. 10-25.) Phillips then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on July 28, 2015. (Tr. 8, 1-5.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Phillips first argues that the RFC formulated by the ALJ was not supported by substantial evidence. Phillips next contends that the ALJ erred in discrediting her subjective complaints.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ stated that Phillips met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ found that Phillips had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of March 24, 2011. Id.

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Phillips had the following severe impairments: diabetes, high blood pressure, and “anxiety and depressive disorders.” Id. The ALJ found that Phillips did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals in severity the requirements of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18.)

As to Phillips' RFC, the ALJ stated:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds occasionally. She can walk, stand, and sit for six hours. She can no more than occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. The claimant cannot use her feet for foot controls. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She can never work around moving machinery and unprotected heights. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures and humidity. She is limited to simple, repetitive tasks with occasional interaction with others. This reflects an ability to perform a range of unskilled, light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b).

(Tr. 19.)

         The ALJ found that Phillips' allegations regarding her limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ indicated that the testimony of the “impartial medical experts” supported his RFC determination. (Tr. 22.) He stated that he was assigning “no weight” to the opinion of treating psychiatrist, Susan Minchin, M.D., because it was unsupported by the medical evidence, including Dr. Minchin's own treatment records. (Tr. 23.)

         The ALJ further found that Phillips is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 23.) The ALJ noted that a vocational expert testified that Phillips could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as bench assembler and sorter. (Tr. 24.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Phillips has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 24, 2011, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 25.)

The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:
Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on June 22, 2012, the claimant is not disabled as defined in sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.

(Tr. 25.)

         III. Applicable Law

         III. A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation ...

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