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Weckherlin v. Berryhill

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

September 5, 2017

ANNETTE M. WECKHERLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action is before this Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that Plaintiff Annette Weckherlin was not disabled, and thus not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who was born on January 23, 1983, filed her application for benefits on February 24, 2014, alleging disability beginning January 22, 2014, due to depression, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, and migraines. On April 9, 2014, Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial administrative level, and she thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         A video hearing was held on January 6, 2015, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. Although Plaintiff was informed of her right to representation, she appeared and testified without the assistance of an attorney. By decision dated May 18, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work” as defined by the Commissioner's regulations, except that:

She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and she can perform no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs and occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She needs to avoid unprotected heights and dangerous or moving machinery. In addition, [she] would need an unskilled, simple, routine, repetitive job with only occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public and with no fast-paced or high production quotas.

Tr. 25.

         The ALJ next found that Plaintiff could perform certain light unskilled jobs listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) (housekeeping, mail room clerk, and merchandise marker) that the VE had stated a person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational factors (age, education, work experience) could perform and that were available in significant numbers in the national economy. In a footnote, the ALJ further stated that, although Plaintiff's RFC made her capable of this light unskilled work, even if the ALJ had “reduced the ‘light' baseline capacity to the ‘sedentary' level, ” there were still a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, as confirmed by the VE, including the sedentary unskilled jobs of address clerk, account clerk, and bench sorter. Tr. 28 n.4.

         Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration was denied on August 23, 2016. Plaintiff has thus exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the final agency action now under review.

         Plaintiff, who is now represented by counsel, argues that “[t]he ALJ's [RFC] finding is too vague to allow meaningful review or to satisfy the specificity required by regulation and policy, in that a limit to ‘light exertion' could have a variety of different meanings, and the phrase ‘no fast-paced or high production quotas' is overly vague.” ECF No. 13 at 2. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ improperly relied upon the VE's testimony without establishing a reasonable basis for that testimony. With respect to the latter argument, Plaintiff contends that, because the hypothetical questions the ALJ posed to the VE included “functional limitations that are not described by the DOT, ” the ALJ was required to inquire further as to the basis for the VE's testimony. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and the case remanded for an award of benefits or, alternatively, for further development of the record.

         Agency Records, Medical Records, Evidentiary Hearing, and ALJ's Decision

          The Court adopts the unopposed facts set forth in Plaintiff's Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts (ECF No. 13-1), as amended by Defendant to exclude Plaintiff's legal arguments (ECF No. 20). These statements provide a fair description of the record before the Court. Specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         DISCUSSION

         Standard of Review and ...


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