United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SUSAN L. GREIFZU-HAMRIC, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner determining
that plaintiff Susan Greifzu-Hamric (“Plaintiff”)
was no longer disabled, and therefore discontinuing her
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42
U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Plaintiff has filed
a brief in support of the Complaint (Doc. No. 19), Defendant
has filed a brief in support of the Answer (Doc. No. 26). The
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) (Doc. No. 13).
October 25, 2003, Plaintiff was found to be disabled due to
ovarian remnant syndrome, with an initial onset date of
August 1, 2001. (Tr. 226-229). This 2003 decision is the
comparison point decision (“CPD”) against which
her continuing disability is measured. Plaintiff underwent a
medical improvement review on November 18, 2011, and on April
2, 2012, a disability examiner for the Social Security
Administration filed an Explanation of Determination, stating
that there had been significant medical improvement in
Plaintiff's severe impairment and that she could perform
work-related duties. (Tr. 223-225). As a result, Plaintiff
was deemed “no longer disabled” as of April 1,
2012 and informed that her benefits would cease on June 30,
2012. (Id.). The determination was upheld by a state
disability hearing officer on November 1, 2012. (Tr.
242-252). Plaintiff requested review by an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), and a hearing was held on April
11, 2013. (Tr. 46-91). Supplemental hearings were held on
March 24 and April 1, 2014. (Tr. 92-197, 198-222). Plaintiff
attended and testified at each hearing. At the second
hearing, rheumatologist Ann Winkler, M.D., clinical
psychologist Richard Hutchison, Ph.D., and vocational expert
Delores E. Gonzales testified. After the second hearing, the
ALJ sent additional interrogatories to Dr. Winkler and
received responses. (Tr. 788-790).
issued her Decision in this matter on September 2, 2014. (Tr.
21-38). She found that Plaintiff ceased being disabled as of
June 30, 2012 and was therefore no longer eligible for
disability benefits. (Tr. 38). Plaintiff in turn filed a
Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order on November 7,
2014, putting the matter in front of the Appeals Council.
(Tr. 8-10). On December 7, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-7). As such, the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner. This suit followed.
is a 50 year-old woman, at the time of the hearings living
with the youngest of her four children. (Tr. 55, 83). Prior
to her initial disability, she worked in sales, most recently
for Miller Brewing Company. (Tr. 144). That work involved
riding along with distributers' employees on beer
deliveries, setting up advertising displays, and occasionally
helping to unload cases of beer. (Tr. 144). She attended
college for two years. (Tr. 160).
primary complaints revolve around pain in her neck, her back,
and abdomen. At various times she has also complained about
generalized fibromyalgia, inability to hold or carry things,
incontinence when she attempts to pick things up, radiant
pain in her arm and leg, blurred vision, dizziness, cognitive
impairments (notably poor memory) and muscle weakness.
April 4, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle
accident. (Tr. 637). At the time, she denied having lost
consciousness. (Tr. 639). She also reported no incontinence
or motor weakness at follow-up appointments with her doctors
12 days, one month and three months after the accident. (Tr.
599, 602, 681-682).
testified that she had both “good days” and
“bad days” as to her back, neck and abdomen, and
that on a “bad day” her son helps her use the
bathroom. (Tr. 55). Plaintiff testified that she is never
without pain, and that on a ten-point pain scale, her lower
back can get as low as a three, her stomach can get down to a
2.5, but that her neck “averages about an eight.”
(Tr. 67-68). In 2011, Plaintiff stated that she had chronic
neck and back pain “for at least the last 20
years.” (Tr. 571). She testified that she cannot carry
a purse or wear a necklace due to pain. (Tr. 82-83).
Plaintiff testified that her neck hurts 24 hours a day, 7
days a week, and pain shoots down her arm. (Tr. 208).
Plaintiff claimed that she can only lift and carry about four
pounds (the weight of the smallest of her three dogs) on a
regular basis (Tr. 83), and that she drops things “all
the time” when her hands “go numb.”
(Id.). She also claimed to suffer from fibromyalgia
and have radiant, burning and throbbing pain in her spine.
(Tr. 206-208). Plaintiff also claimed that she cannot bend,
stoop or squat without pain (Tr. 215), that she had memory
deficits (Tr. 214), and had intermittent blurred vision (Tr.
218). The ALJ also cited Plaintiff's testimony regarding
her constipation and pain associated with both urination,
which can make her need to lie down for half an hour
afterward, (Tr. 219) and defecation, which at its worst
either makes her lie down for two hours (Tr. 63) or leaves
her in “a ball for four hours” (Tr. 218-219).
terms of treatment, Plaintiff testified that she takes opioid
pain medication every day and has for an extended period of
time, since at least 2001. (Tr. 55, 62, 660). Plaintiff noted
that ice “helps a lot” and that she uses a
transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
(“TENS”) unit on her neck and back which
“helps some.” (Tr. 66-67). She also gets massages
at the mall. (Tr. 67). Plaintiff testified that she suffers
from side effects from her pain medications, notably
constipation and dizziness. (Tr. 62).
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Eighth Circuit case law, this
Court reviews the final decision of the Commissioner to
determine whether that decision is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. See Smith v.
Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). Substantial
evidence, in turn, is “less than a preponderance but is
enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.”
Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir.
2002). Thus, the decision of the Commissioner may not be
reversed solely because this Court might have decided the
case differently. Id. at 1022. Instead, this Court
must simply determine whether the quantity and quality of
evidence is enough so that a reasonable mind might find it
adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001).
this Court will determine whether the Commissioner correctly
applied the eight step process described at 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594 for determining whether Plaintiff continues to be
one of this process, the Commissioner must determine if the
Plaintiff is engaging in substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”). If the Plaintiff is performing
substantial gainful activity, the Plaintiff is no longer
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1).
two, the Commissioner must determine whether the Plaintiff
has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets
or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and
404.1526). If the Plaintiff has such impairments, her
disability continues. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(2).
three, the Commissioner must determine whether medical
improvement has occurred. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(3).
Medical improvement is any decrease in medical severity of
the impairment(s) as established by improvement in symptoms,
signs and/or laboratory findings. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(1). If medical improvement has occurred, the
analysis proceeds to the fourth step. If not, the analysis
proceeds to the fifth step.
four, the Commissioner must determine whether medical
improvement is related to the ability to work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1594(f)(4). Medical improvement is related to the
ability to work if it results in an increase in the
Plaintiff's capacity to perform basic work activities. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(3). If medical improvement is not
related to the Plaintiff's ability to work, the analysis
proceeds to step five; if medical improvement is related to
the Plaintiff's ability to do work, the analysis moves to
Commissioner found at step three that there was no medical
improvement, or found at step four that the medical
improvement is not related to the ability to work, then at
step five, the Commissioner considers whether any of the
exceptions at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(d) and (e) apply. If
none of them apply, the Plaintiff's disability will be
found to continue. If one of the first group of exceptions to
medical improvement applies, the analysis proceeds to step
six; if an exception from the second group of exceptions to
medical improvement applies, the disability will be found to
six, the Commissioner must determine whether the
Plaintiff's current impairments when considered in
combination are “severe, ” in that they
significantly limit the Plaintiff's ability to do basic
work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6). If all
current impairments in combination do not significantly limit
the Plaintiff's ability to do basic work activities, the
Plaintiff is no longer disabled. If they do, the analysis
proceeds to the next step.
seven, the Commissioner must assess the Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) based on the
current impairments and determine if she can perform past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(7). If the
Plaintiff has the capacity to perform past relevant work, her
disability has ended. If not, the analysis proceeds to the
final step, the Commissioner must determine whether other
work exists that the Plaintiff can perform, given her
residual functional capacity and considering her age,
education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(f)(8). If the Plaintiff can perform other work, she
is no longer disabled. If the Plaintiff cannot perform other
work, her disability continues.
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495
F.3d at 617. Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ,
who is the fact-finder. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363
F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). An administrative decision
which is supported by substantial evidence is not subject to
reversal merely because substantial evidence may also support
an opposite conclusion or because the reviewing court would
have decided differently. Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at
determine whether the Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the court is required to
review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:
(1) Findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant's treating
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the
claimant's physical activity and impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant's
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon proper
hypothetical questions which fairly set forth the