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Edwards v. Berryhill

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

May 10, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Laura Edwards' (“Edwards”) appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 7.] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the transcript and medical evidence. Based on the following, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. Background

         On April 4, 2013, Edwards applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, alleging disability since February 16, 2013. (Tr. 183-192.) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Edwards' claim and she filed a timely request for hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 123-27, 130-31.) The SSA granted Edwards' request for review, and an administrative hearing was held on January 21, 2015. (Tr. 58-86, 133-40.) Edwards, represented by a non-attorney representative, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 58-86, 128.) Vocational expert (“VE”), Carly Coughlin[2] (“Coughlin”), also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 58-86.)

         On January 29, 2015, the ALJ found Edwards not disabled as defined in the Society Security Act. (Tr. 11-23.) Edwards requested a review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. (Tr. 7.) On April 22, 2016, the Appeals Counsel of the Social Security Administration denied Edwards' request for review. (Tr. 1-6.) The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Edwards filed this appeal on June 22, 2016. [Doc 1.] The Commissioner filed an Answer and the certified Administrative Transcript on August 26, 2016. [Doc. 11, 12.] Edwards filed a Brief in Support of the Complaint on September 26, 2016. [Doc. 13.] The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on December 22, 2016. [Doc. 18.] Edwards then filed a Reply Brief on January 5, 2017. [Doc. 19.]

         II. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)1)A), 423(d)1)(A).

         The SSA uses a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(1), 416.920(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).

         Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) 416.920(e).

         Fourth, the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 726 (8th Cir. 2004).

         To determine whether the ALJ's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court is required to review the administrative record as a whole to consider:

(1) The findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the claimant;
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant's treating physician;
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the claimant's physical impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant's physical impairment;
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon prior hypothetical questions which fairly set forth the claimant's physical impairment; and
(7) The testimony of consulting physicians.

Brand. V. Sec'y of Dept. of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir. 1980).

         III. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Edwards met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 16, 2013. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ found that Edwards had the following severe impairments: peripheral vascular disease, fibromyalgia, and intellectual disability. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ also found that Edwards did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14.) The ALJ determined that Edwards' mental impairments did not specifically meet the initial requirements for Listing 12.05C. (Tr. 15.) Although Edwards obtained a full scale IQ score of 66 on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale- Fourth Edition (“WAIS-IV”), [3] this was taken “well after” the age of 22. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ also discussed Edwards' school records. While testing placed her at low-average range of cognitive and intellectual functioning, there was some question as to whether Edwards worked to her full abilities as a student. (Tr. 15.) Lastly, the ALJ reasoned that the evidence failed to show that Edwards had deficits in adaptive functioning. (Tr. 15.) Although Edwards' earnings record is not strong, the ALJ cited that she did earn $11, 000 in 2010 as a dietary aide. She also can bathe, change her clothes, brush her teeth daily, and go to the grocery store. (Tr. 14-15.)

         The ALJ also found that Edwards had the RFC to perform sedentary work with the following limitations: that she cannot work on scaffolds and must avoid all dangerous activities; she cannot ambulate on unimproved terrain; she is limited to simple or repetitive work; she should avoid close interaction with the public; she should avoid jobs that require more than simple interaction with supervisors; and she should avoid jobs that require teamwork with co-workers. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ found Edwards' testimony about her symptoms not entirely credible. He found that her medical records failed to reveal persistent, severe symptoms that would preclude her from working. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ determined that Edwards was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from February 16, 2013, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 19.)

         IV. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ:

         A. Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ heard testimony from Edwards and Carly Coughlin, the VE. Edwards was represented by a non-attorney representative. (Tr. 58-86, 128.)

         1. ...

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