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Wesley v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

JODY M. WESLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION, 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 supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (Act), 1381, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.

         Facts and Background

         On May 2, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Stephen M. Hanekamp conducted a video hearing from St. Louis, Missouri. Plaintiff appeared by video teleconference from Columbia, Missouri and the Vocational Expert, Denise Ann Weaver, appeared as well.

         Plaintiff resides with her son and husband who was also unemployed at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff was born on November 9, 1980. She was 43years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff completed high school.

         Plaintiff has no prior work experience based upon the previous finding by another ALJ. Plaintiff did not dispute this finding.

         On examination by counsel, Plaintiff testified, that she has panic attacks three to four times a week which cause her to be light-headed, short of breath, and her heart starts racing. As a consequence she is unable to function for a period of time.

         Plaintiff spends her days taking care of her young son and doing some house-work. She has a driver's license, but she testified it was difficult for her to drive because of the medications she takes There was testimony from Denise Ann Weaver, the 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 there were jobs at the medium work level available for Plaintiff as a linen room attendant, hotel and restaurant industry, a cleaner, hospital, and a stubber.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to a finding of disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 17, 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 issues in this case are whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal listing 12.06 and whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC) determination.

         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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