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Pashia v. Berryhill

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

September 28, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Scarlotte A. Pashia 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 a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Pashia'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 presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and remanded.

         I. Procedural History

         Pashia filed an application for benefits under Title II on February 1, 2013, claiming that she became unable to work on January 31, 2013, because of bipolar disorder, seizures, depression, diabetic neuropathy, right knee problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (Tr. 158-64, 209.) Pashia's claim was denied initially. (Tr. 99-103.) Following an administrative hearing, Pashia's claim was denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated March 16, 2015. (Tr. 15-28.) Pashia then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on June 3, 2016. (Tr. 1-5.) 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, Pashia argues that the ALJ “failed to properly weigh the medical evidence and failed to properly determine Ms. Pashia's mental residual functional capacity.” (Doc. 9 at 9.) Pashia next contends that the ALJ “failed to properly evaluate Ms. Pashia's credibility.” Id. at 13. Finally, she argues that the ALJ “relied on flawed vocational expert testimony.” Id. at 15.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ found that Pashia meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of January 31, 2013. (Tr. 17.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Pashia had the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, osteoarthritis of the right knee, chondromalacia in both knees, and bipolar disorder. Id. The ALJ found that Pashia did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 18.)

         As to Pashia's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), except the claimant can perform no climbing of stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, cannot perform work at unprotected heights, can endure no concentrated exposure to hazards of machinery in the workplace, and can have no more than rare contact with the public or coworkers. The claimant is limited to no more than occasional changes in the workplace routine.

(Tr. 20.)

         The ALJ found that Pashia's allegations regarding the extent of her limitations were not credible. (Tr. 26.) In determining Pashia's mental RFC, the ALJ indicated that she was assigning “little weight” to the opinions of treating psychiatrist Heather Hill, M.D. (Tr. 25-26.)

         The ALJ further found that Pashia was unable to perform past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy, such as patcher, and touch-up screener. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Pashia has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 31, 2013, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 28.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on February 1, 2013, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.


         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 ...

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