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Harlan v. Berryhill

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

September 18, 2017

AMBER HARLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Amber Harlan brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying her application for supplemental security income. Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff alleged she became disabled beginning January 27, 2015, because of bipolar and anxiety disorders, degenerative and herniated disc disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, migraines, and obesity.

         Plaintiff's application was initially denied on April 29, 2015. After a hearing before an ALJ on October 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on December 4, 2015. On March 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this action for judicial review, Harlan contends that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Harlan specifically argues that the ALJ erred by according improper weight to certain opinion evidence in this case and improperly assessed her credibility. Harlan asks that I reverse the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter for further evaluation. For the reasons that follow, I will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt Harlan's recitation of facts set forth in her Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts (ECF #22-1) to the extent they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF #27-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts (ECF #27-2), as they are unrefuted by Harlan. Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate description of the relevant record before the Court.

         Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, Harlan must prove that she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines disability as the “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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual will be declared disabled “only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The Commissioner begins by deciding whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is working, disability benefits are denied. Next, the Commissioner decides whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments, meaning that which significantly limits her ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant's impairment(s) is not severe, then she is not disabled. The Commissioner then determines whether claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If claimant's impairment(s) is equivalent to one of the listed impairments, she is conclusively disabled. At the fourth step, the Commissioner establishes whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. Finally, the Commissioner evaluates various factors to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing any other work in the economy. If not, the claimant is declared disabled and becomes entitled to disability benefits.

         I must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). Determining whether there is substantial evidence requires scrutinizing analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007).

         I must consider evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision as well as any evidence that fairly detracts from the decision. McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010). If, after reviewing the entire record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions and the Commissioner has adopted one of those positions, I must affirm the Commissioner's decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). I may not reverse the ...


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