United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
D. NOCE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action is before this court for judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that
plaintiff Elsa Annette Lee is not disabled and, thus, not
entitled to disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
or supplemental security income (“SSI”) under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-34, 1381-1385. The parties have consented to
the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United
States Magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the
Commissioner is affirmed.
was born in 1969 and has work experience as a fast food cook
and home attendant. (Tr. 26, 97, 99-100, 118). She filed her
application for DIB and SSI in June 2013, alleging a total
disability onset date of February 15, 2011. (Tr. 97-98, 332,
337- 44). Plaintiff claimed that fibromyalgia, arthritis,
migraine headaches, and degenerative disc disease in her neck
limited her ability to work. (Tr. 117). Her applications were
denied in September 2013, and she requested a hearing before
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 40-46,
355-56). A hearing was held on December 5, 2014, where
plaintiff testified. (Tr. 357-92). By decision dated March
12, 2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under
the Social Security Act. (Tr. 13-27). The ALJ determined that
plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform jobs available in the national
economy. Id. On April 5, 2016, the Appeals Council
of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 7-12).
Consequently, the ALJ's decision stands as the final,
judicially reviewable decision of the Commissioner.
argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence. Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ
(1) failed to give proper weight to a treating
physician's opinion and (2) failed to identify proper
medical evidence to support the determination of
Medical Record and Evidentiary Hearing
court adopts the parties' unopposed statements of facts
(Docs. 16 and 21). These facts, taken together, present a
fair and accurate summary of the medical record and testimony
at the evidentiary hearing. The court will discuss specific
facts as they are relevant to the parties' arguments.
found that plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of
the Act and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 18). He found that
plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, migraines, cervical and lumbar degenerative
disc disease, osteoarthritis, mild bilateral wrist
neuropathy, and obesity. (Tr. 18). The ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal an
impairment listed in the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr.
accounted for plaintiff's complaints and, in considering
the medical evidence, determined that plaintiff's
impairment left her with the RFC to “perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), ”
with the following exceptions:
[S]he can lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and 5
pounds frequently, stand and/or walk 15 minutes at a time up
to 2 hours total, and sit 45 minutes at a time up to 6 hours
total in an 8-hour workday. She cannot climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds or crawl, but can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, stoop, kneel, and crouch. She can frequently reach,
handle, and finger. She must avoid work environments with
extreme heat or cold and hazards such as dangerous machinery
and unprotected heights.
found that the objective medical evidence did not support the
severity of plaintiff's allegations. (Tr. 22). Although
plaintiff complained she has pain, headaches, fatigue, and
limited mobility, the ALJ determined that “the medical
evidence of record suggests some limitations, but not enough
to preclude all work within the [RFC].” (Tr. 22). He
noted normal or mild medical exams and imaging. (Tr. 22-23).
He also noted improvement of symptoms with treatment, and
that plaintiff reported no side effects to medications at the
time of the hearing. (Tr. 23-24). The ALJ also observed that
plaintiff's work history and activities of daily living
supported the finding that she remains capable of other work.
(Tr. 24). In particular he emphasized plaintiff's hearing
testimony about working through pain and headaches in 2010
and 2011, continuing to keep active with a variety of chores,
and continuing to take care of her 12-year-old daughter. (Tr.
gave partial weight to the Medical Source Statement
(“MSS”) opinion of plaintiff's family
practitioner, David Dale, D.O. (Tr. 25). He gave greater
weight to Dr. Dale's findings that plaintiff could lift
or carry 10 pounds occasionally, stand or walk 15 minutes at
a time up to 2 hours, and sit 45 minutes at a time in an
8-hour day, as these findings corresponded with
plaintiff's medical exams, improved symptoms with
treatment, and varied activities of daily living. (Tr. 25).
The ALJ gave little weight, however, to Dr. Dale's
findings that plaintiff could only sit up to 2 hours in an
8-hour workday and needed to lie down or recline every 15-45
minutes, because Dr. Dale did not cite any specific exam
findings in support, the limitations appeared to be based on
plaintiff's subjective complaints, and the limitations
were inconsistent with plaintiff's reported activities of
daily living. (Tr. 25). The ALJ also gave little weight to
Dr. Dale's conclusion that plaintiff was permanently
unable to work, because such a statement regards disability,
which is an issue reserved to the Commissioner. (Tr. 25). He
found the statement was also unsupported by any objective
findings. (Tr. 25).
gave great weight to the opinion of the state agency
psychological consultant, who found that plaintiff's
anxiety and affective disorder caused only mild limitations
in plaintiff's activities of daily living; concentration,
persistence, or pace; and social functioning. (Tr. 25). The
ALJ found this to correspond with plaintiff's mental
status examinations, conservative mental health treatment,
and reported activities of daily living. (Tr. 25).
on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”),
the ALJ concluded that plaintiff would be unable to perform
her past relevant work as either a fast food cook or a home
attendant because both of these occupations required medium
strength. (Tr. 26, 164-71). However, considering
plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
ALJ relied on VE testimony to find there were jobs in
significant numbers in the national economy that a ...