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Chapman v. Berryhill

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

September 20, 2017

PAULA RENEE CHAPMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Paula Renee Chapman brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that, despite Chapman's severe physical and mental impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is contained in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Chapman filed an application for DIB on March 25, 2013, claiming that she became unable to work due to her disabling condition on May 31, 2012. (Tr. 168-79.) On September 8, 2014, Chapman filed an application for SSI, with the same alleged onset of disability date. (Tr. 211-17.) She claimed that she was unable to work due to a torn rotator cuff, edema, arthritis, migraines, neuropathy, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 235.) Chapman's claims were denied initially. (Tr. 74.) Following an administrative hearing, Chapman's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated March 4, 2015. (Tr. 10-22.) Chapman then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (Tr. 5), which was denied on April 13, 2016 (Tr. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Chapman delineates ten separate claims of error by the ALJ. Some of these claims overlap, and can be summarized as follows: (1) errors in assessing Chapman's credibility; (2) errors in weighing the medical opinion evidence; (3) errors in determining Chapman's RFC; and (4) errors at step five of the sequential evaluation.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ found that Chapman meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 31, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 12.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Chapman had the following severe impairments: mild degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, major depressive disorder, and panic disorder. Id. The ALJ found that Chapman did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 14.)

         As to Chapman's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a restricted range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) in that she can lift 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. She can carry 10 pounds occasionally. She can sit for up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop. The claimant should avoid more than occasional exposure to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts. She is limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple, routine, repetitive tasks, involving simple work-related decisions with few, if any, changes.

(Tr. 15.)

         The ALJ found that Chapman's allegations regarding her limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 16.) In determining Chapman's RFC, the ALJ indicated that he was assigning “significant weight” to the opinion of consultative examiner John Demorlis, M.D., regarding Chapman's physical limitations. (Tr. 17.) As to Chapman's mental RFC, the ALJ indicated that he was assigning “significant weight” to some of the opinions of consultative psychological examiner, Heather Derix, Psy.D. (Tr. 20.)

         The ALJ further found that Chapman was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ noted that a vocational expert testified that Chapman could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as final assembler, document preparer, and table worker. (Tr. 22.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Chapman has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 31, 2012, through the date of the decision. Id.

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on March 25, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Based on the application for supplemental security income filed on September 8, 2014, the claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Id.

         III. Applicable Law

         III. A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed 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 of the evidence, 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). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review the entire administrative record and consider:

1. The credibility findings made by the ALJ.
2. The plaintiff's vocational factors.
3. The medical evidence from treating and consulting physicians.
4. The plaintiff's subjective complaints relating to exertional and non-exertional activities and impairments.
5. Any corroboration by third parties of the plaintiff's impairments.
6. The testimony of vocational experts when required which is based upon a proper hypothetical question which sets forth the claimant's impairment.

Stewart v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 581, 585-86 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted). The Court must also consider any evidence which fairly detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Coleman, 498 F.3d at 770; Warburton v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1047, 1050 (8th Cir. 1999). However, even though two inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the Commissioner's findings may still be supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000)). “[I]f there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole, we must affirm the administrative decision, even if the record could also have supported an opposite decision.” Weikert v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 1249, 1252 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). See also Jones ex rel. Morris v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 974, 977 (8th Cir. 2003).

         III. B. ...


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