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Phillips v. Berryhill

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

September 27, 2017

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

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Tara Phillips (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of Acting Commissioner Berryhill's (“Defendant”) denial of her applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act (SSA).[2] Because substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial of Plaintiff's applications.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and for Supplemental Security Income on April 5, 2013, alleging that her disability commenced on December 31, 2010 (Tr. 192-204). The SSA denied Plaintiff's claims, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr. 73-83, 84-94, 104-05). Following a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on August 14, 2014 and found that Plaintiff was not under a disability, within the meaning of the SSA, from December 31, 2010 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 6- 24). The SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request for review. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         Plaintiff appeared with counsel at the administrative hearing. Plaintiff testified, as did three doctors: Goldstein, Akins and Watts. (Tr. 25-72).

         A. Dr. Goldstein

         Dr. Goldstein reviewed Plaintiff's medical records at the request of the ALJ. (Tr. 30). His description of Plaintiff's impairments was as follows: hypothyroidism, history of migraine headaches and sinusitis, and major depression. (Tr. 30-31). He identified Plaintiff's “major medical problems” as hypothyroidism. (Tr. 31) In Dr. Goldstein's opinion, none of Plaintiff's impairments individually met or equaled a listed impairment. Id. In particular, Plaintiff's hypothyroidism was controlled with medication. Id. Dr. Goldstein described Plaintiff's residual functional capacity as follows:

I think she can definitely sit. She can use her hands. She can lift her arms. She could occasionally walk stairs.
… But I think she can sit for two hours to three hours at a time. She can do that with usual breaks at least six hours a day. She can stand 30 minutes at a time, and do that at least two hours.

(Tr. 31-32)

         Plaintiff's counsel cross-examined Dr. Goldstein and established that his opinions were limited to the impact of Plaintiff's hypothyroidism. (Tr. 32-34). Dr. Goldstein declined to comment on Plaintiff's anxiety, mood disorder or depression. (Tr. 34).

         B. Dr. Akins

         Dr. Akins, a psychiatrist, appeared at the request of the ALJ. (Tr. 35). Prior to his testimony, Dr. Akins reviewed Plaintiff's medical records. Id. Dr. Akins did not examine Plaintiff. (Tr. 36).

         Dr. Akins confirmed that Plaintiff had a mood disorder due to hypothyroidism and an alternative diagnosis of depressive disorder, “coincident to hypothyroidism.” Id. Dr. Akins also stated that Plaintiff's history included anxiety around people. Id. Dr. Akins concluded that “none of the symptoms appear to have a major impact on work” so he “would have to say a listing is not met or equaled, and that's with regard to functional ...


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