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Troupe v. Berryhill

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

September 13, 2017

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



         This action is before this court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff Stephanie R. Troupe is not disabled and, thus, not entitled to either disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., or supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1961 and protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 28, 2015. (Tr. 13, 289-97, 317-20). She alleged a disability onset date of July 8, 2015, due to chronic back pain following spinal fusion surgery, nerve compression causing pain and numbness in foot, poor balance leading to lots of falls, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and chest pain. (Tr. 317-22). Her applications were denied in November 2015, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 219-24, 232). At the February 2016 hearing, plaintiff and a vocational expert, J. Stephen Dolan, testified. (Tr. 156-80). By decision dated March 17, 2016, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act through the date of the decision. (Tr. 10-28). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         A. Medical Record and Evidentiary Hearing

         The court adopts the parties' unopposed statements of facts (Docs. 15 and 20). These facts, taken together, present a fair and accurate summary of the relevant medical record and testimony at the evidentiary hearing. The court will discuss specific evidence as it is relevant to the parties' arguments.

         B. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ noted that this was plaintiff's sixth disability benefits application and third ALJ hearing. (Tr. 21, 300). He noted that a prior disability benefits allowance was terminated after ten months in 2010, when plaintiff continued to earn income despite her alleged disability. (Tr. 21, 300). Following the termination of benefits, plaintiff earned more than $20, 000 per year between 2011 and 2014 as a collections clerk. (Tr. 22, 163, 302). The ALJ determined that the record failed to support a deterioration in her condition since that time. (Tr. 10-24).

         The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, cardiomyopathy, diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, obesity, and hypertension. (Tr. 15). He found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of July 8, 2015. (Tr. 15). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's impairments either alone or in combination did not meet or equal an impairment listed in the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. 15-16).

         The ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments left her with the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she can never climb ropes, ladders, scaffolds, or ramps and stairs, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel; she is unable to operate any foot controls; and she requires a sit/stand option every 60 minutes throughout the eight-hour workday while remaining on task; the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, and humidity; she must avoid concentrated exposure to irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, or poorly ventilated areas; she is to avoid extreme vibration, all operational control of moving machinery, working at unprotected heights, and the use of hazardous machinery.

(Tr. 16). The ALJ noted that while plaintiff's impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some symptoms, he found plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were inconsistent with the assessed RFC. (Tr. 17).

         Specifically, the ALJ noted the medical record revealed many normal findings, as well as many damaging inconsistencies. (Tr. 18). He found plaintiff's habit of smoking at least half a pack of cigarettes a day was inconsistent with the ongoing limitations she alleged. (Tr. 17, 21, 611, 651). He believed her non-compliance undermined the credibility of her allegations of disabling symptoms. Id. He noted several inconsistencies in plaintiff's reports to her primary care and reports to other doctors. (Tr. 21). Additionally, the ALJ noted that plaintiff reported great relief from pain and symptoms upon treatment. (Tr. 19, 22). The ALJ emphasized that plaintiff had been working, despite many of her ailments, for years. (Tr. 23). He ultimately concluded that nothing in the medical records suggested plaintiff could not perform sedentary work, as described in the assessed RFC, once she complied with treatment. (Tr. 18, 23) (“There is no persuasive evidence that [plaintiff's] recent circulatory problems and foot ulcers will not heal if [she] makes even a minimal effort to follow the instructions of her treating doctors.”). (Tr. 23).

         Based on his evaluation of the evidence, the ALJ found that the objective medical evidence and treatment records indicated plaintiff is capable of performing work as described in the RFC. (Tr. 24). He found, further, that she is capable of her past relevant work as a collections clerk, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). Id. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was disabled. Id.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred (a) in finding that plaintiff's impairments did not meet one of the Commissioner's listings: Listing 1.04A; (b) in the determination of her RFC; and (c) in the determination that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work. (Doc. 15). ...

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