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Moore v. Berryhill

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

May 30, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Derrick Moore seeks review of the decision of the Social Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying his application for Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act.[2] Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial of Plaintiff's application.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On January 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income alleging he was disabled as of October 15, 2006 as a result of bipolar disorder and anxiety.[3] (Tr. 69-79, 133-36). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and he filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 69-79, 88).

         The SSA granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ conducted a hearing on May 8, 2014. (Tr. 36-53). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was thirty-two years of age, lived with his parents, and had completed high school and some college. (Tr. 40-41, 47-48). Plaintiff stated he last attended college in 2012, when he had “a mental, I guess you would call, relapse….The next fall to get back in, my psychiatrist had to write a letter saying that I was able enough to return to school. And then I was - had some more issues and had to drop.” (Tr. 41).

         Plaintiff testified that he began taking medication for depression and anxiety when he was fourteen years old, and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was nineteen or twenty years old. (Tr. 43). Since that, time Plaintiff “pretty much stayed on the medications but never got any better.” (Tr. 43). At the time of the hearing, he was taking Seroquel, trazodone, Xanax, Lamictal, and Celexa. (Id.). Plaintiff explained that, about two months ago, “after fifteen years of not getting better, ” he had switched psychiatrists. (Id.). Plaintiff's new psychiatrist, Dr. Habib, took Plaintiff off Klonopin and placed him on Xanax, which Plaintiff believed was more helpful. (Tr. 45-46).

         Plaintiff's symptoms included sleepwalking, falling asleep “in weird places, ” and social isolation. Plaintiff stated, during his childhood, his father physically and verbally abused him, and “[n]ow it's just full-on mental [abuse].” (Tr. 48). Plaintiff had been addicted to painkillers and was “working through” and almost finished with a treatment program at a methadone clinic. (Tr. 50).

         Plaintiff explained that he had difficulty maintaining employment because “[i]t's like I'll get this overwhelming sensation in my head and body that's saying, you'd be better off at home.” (Tr. 47). Plaintiff testified that, when he worked as a cook at O'Charley's, he “was fine with one or two orders. But as soon as it started coming up, my brain would overload. And so…I got demoted as far down as you can go without them directly firing you.” (Tr. 48). Plaintiff was also terminated from a “cook type” position at a “fair job” because he was “mentally too slow to be there[.]” (Tr. 49).

         On July 30, 2014, a vocational expert answered interrogatories posed by the ALJ. (Tr. 250-52). The vocational expert stated that Plaintiff had previously worked as a restaurant cook, delivery driver, dishwasher, retail sales clerk, and waiter/fast food worker. (Tr. 250). In accordance with the interrogatories, the vocational expert considered a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience that “is limited to jobs that involve understanding, remembering, and carrying out only simple instructions, and performing repetitive tasks. Additionally, the claimant cannot perform jobs that require contact with the public, and is limited to jobs that involve only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.” (Tr. 251). The vocational expert stated that such individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work “because all of [those jobs] require contact with the public and all involve more than simple repetitive tasks.” (Id.). However, the vocational expert stated that such individual could perform the following jobs: nursery laborer; salvage laborer; egg washer; garment folder; puller through; and blower-stuffer. (Id.).

         Plaintiff's counsel did not object to the vocational expert's answers to interrogatories being entered into evidence. (Tr. 256-57). However, Plaintiff's counsel sent the ALJ additional interrogatories and requested they “be forwarded to the vocational witness for a response.” (Id.). Plaintiff's interrogatories added to the ALJ's hypothetical question the limitations of being off-task twenty percent of the day and missing two days of work per month. (Id.). The ALJ declined to send Plaintiff's questions to the vocational expert because “the record…does not support those limitations.” (Tr. 21).

         In a decision dated August 26, 2014, the ALJ applied the five step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 916.920[4] and found that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 17, 2013, the date the application was filed[.]” (Tr. 14-22). The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered the severe impairments of depression and anxiety, but his testimony “concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [his] symptoms are not entirely credible[.]” (Tr. 16, 17). In particular, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff's medical records revealed “a moderate amount of treatment for his mental health impairments, ” which was limited to medication and included neither “any type of psychotherapy on a regular basis” nor “any type of inpatient psychiatric treatment.” (Tr. 18). Additionally, Plaintiff's mental status examinations showed only “moderate abnormalities in his mental health functioning, ” and his medical records revealed that “his medications were not altered on a frequent basis, ” suggesting “that his treatment providers believed he was receiving adequate symptom relief with his medications.” (Id.).

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is limited to jobs that involve understanding, remembering, and carrying out only simple instructions, that do not involve providing services to the public, and involve only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.” (Tr. 16-17). Finally, the ALJ concluded that, while Plaintiff had no past relevant work, “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [he] can perform[.]” (Tr. 20).

         II. Standard of Review

         A court must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence ‘is less than a preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to support the conclusion.'” Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting Boerst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th Cir. 1993)). In determining whether the evidence is substantial, a court considers evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). However, a court “do[es] not reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ and [it] defer[s] to the ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of testimony, as long as ...

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