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Garner v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2017

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

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jacob Garner brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Garner's severe impairments, he was not disabled as he 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 decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Garner filed his applications for DIB and SSI on March 26, 2013. (Tr. 164-76.) He alleged that he became disabled on October 30, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, obesity, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, memory issues, schizoaffective disorder, paranoia, high blood pressure, hypertension, shortness of breath, insomnia, and acid reflux. (Tr. 164-76, 213.) Garner's claims were denied initially. (Tr. 107-08.) Following an administrative hearing, Garner's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated June 20, 2014. (Tr. 11-27.) Garner 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 September 25, 2015. (Tr. 7, 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, Garner first claims that the ALJ “failed to properly weigh the opinion of the treating physician in accord with SSR 96-2p because the ALJ failed to give good reasons for giving little weight to the well-supported opinion of Dr. Caruso.” (Doc. 15 at 9.) Garner also argues that the ALJ erred by “failing to provide a proper credibility analysis as required by SSR 97-7p in that the ALJ failed to base the analysis on the substantial evidence of record.” Id. at 16.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first addressed the fact that Garner filed prior applications for benefits under Titles II and XVI on January 13, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of October 30, 2008. (Tr. 14.) These claims were denied initially, and were denied by an ALJ on March 1, 2012, after a hearing was held. Id. The Appeals Council denied Garner's request for review on March 2, 2013. Id. The ALJ noted that Garner was alleging the same onset date of disability that he had alleged in his prior applications-October 30, 2008. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ found that there was no basis for reopening the prior applications, and that the prior decision was final and binding.[2] Id. He therefore only addressed the issue of whether Garner became disabled after March 1, 2012, the date of the prior unfavorable decision. Id.

         The ALJ stated that Garner met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013.[3] (Tr. 17.) The ALJ found that Garner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 30, 2008. Id.

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Garner had the following severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, hypertension, and morbid obesity. Id. The ALJ found that Garner 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 Garner's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), meaning the claimant is able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks that would not involve fast-paced production work such as an assembly line worker. The claimant is limited to only occasional contact with the public and co-workers and limited to tasks with no more than occasional changes in a routine work setting. In addition, the claimant must avoid work hazards such as exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.

(Tr. 19.)

         The ALJ found that Garner's allegations regarding his limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 21.) In determining Garner's RFC, the ALJ indicated that he was assigning “little weight” to the opinion of treating psychiatrist Dawn Caruso, M.D. (Tr. 25.) The ALJ assigned “significant weight” to the opinion of examining psychologist Georgette Johnson, Psy.D; and “considerable weight” to the opinion of state agency medical consultant Keith Allen, Ph.D. Id. The ALJ also noted that he was giving “little weight” to the GAF score of 41-50 assessed by Courtney Johnson, M.D.[4] Id.

         The ALJ further found that Garner is unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. The ALJ noted that a vocational expert testified that Garner could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as hand washer, ejection molder, and housekeeper/maid. (Tr. 26.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Garner has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 30, 2008, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 27.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits filed on March 25, 2013, the claimant is not disabled as defined in sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Based on the application for supplemental security income filed on March 25, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Id.

         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 marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review the entire administrative record and consider:

1. The credibility findings made by ...

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