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Sexton v. Berryhill

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

March 23, 2017

MARGARET SEXTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits income under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.

         Facts and Background

         On September 30, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Carol L. Boorady conducted a video hearing. Plaintiff and the Vocational Expert both appeared. Plaintiff appeared in Hannibal, Missouri. The Administrative Law Judge presided over the hearing from Columbia, Missouri. Plaintiff was born on August 1, 1964. She was 50years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff completed high school and has an Associate's Degree as a medical secretary.

         Plaintiff testified that she experiences problems from her diabetes. Her blood sugar levels are extremely uncontrollable. She becomes very agitated and extremely hot, but the levels do not get to the very high levels very often, maybe once or twice per week. When her blood sugar levels are low, her hands start to shake, and she has had two seizures in the last month. She testified that she was going to see an endocrinologist in October and that she would be getting an insulin pump which she hoped would regulate her blood sugar levels a bit better.

         Plaintiff testified, on examination by the ALJ, that she suffered from neuropathy, which starts in her feet and goes up to her hips. Plaintiff has bone spurs and arthritis in her feet, and she has pain in her lower back. Plaintiff testified that she has had two back surgeries, and another is necessary. She sits for 10-15 minutes to alleviate pain, but sitting also aggravates her pain. She takes Norco or Vicodin for pain.

         Plaintiff testified that when she gets up in the morning she makes breakfast for herself. She packs her husband's lunchbox, puts her 15 year old daughter on the bus and tries to clean up a bit. Afterwards, she sometimes sits at her computer to work for a little bit, but she has to get up and down. She tries to do some cleaning; laundry is probably the easiest thing for her to do because it doesn't weigh much. She testified that she goes grocery shopping and walks as she leans on the shopping cart. She attends her daughter's softball games and has trouble if she has to sit in the bleachers. Plaintiff was formerly employed as a medical records clerk and a cashier, but she testified that she could no longer do those jobs because of all the standing they required.

         The ALJ also secured testimony of Denise Anne Weaver, a Vocational Expert. Ms. Weaver testified and classified the past work experience of the Plaintiff in relation to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Based upon all of those considerations and the stated hypotheticals of the ALJ, including stated limitations, the Vocational Expert concluded Plaintiff could perform her previous job as a medical records clerk and that there were jobs available for Plaintiff as a document preparer, microfilming, dowel inspector, and a lens inserter.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to a finding of disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 15, 2015. The decision of the ALJ is now the final decision for review by this court.

         Statement of Issues

         The issues in a Social Security case are whether the final decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Social Security Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and whether the findings of fact by the ALJ are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Here the Plaintiff asserts the specific issue in this case is whether the ALJ properly considered opinion evidence.

         Standard for Determining Disability

         The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is “unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be “of such severity that [the claimant] 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in “substantial gainful activity”; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

         Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations.” Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a) (4) (iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id... At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the ...


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