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Pinkston v. Berryhill

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

March 6, 2018

SHIRLEY PINKSTON o/b/o JOSEPH E. HOFSTETTER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Shirley Pinkston (“Plaintiff”) brings this action on behalf of Joseph E. Hofstetter, deceased, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of Hofstetter's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         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

         Hofstetter filed an application for SSI on February 20, 2013, claiming that he became unable to work due to his disabling condition on December 31, 2003. (Tr. 12, 144-49.) He claimed that he was unable to work due to asthma, high blood pressure, atopic eczema dermatitis, and a heart murmur. (Tr. 169.) Hofstetter's claim was denied initially. (Tr. 85-90.) Following an administrative hearing, Hofstetter's claim was denied in a written opinion by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), dated February 13, 2015. (Tr. 12-24.) The ALJ found that, despite Hofstetter's severe impairments, he was not disabled as he had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         Hofstetter died on March 15, 2015, after which the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration substituted Plaintiff Shirley Pinkston for Hofstetter. (Doc. 19 at 2.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 21, 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, Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred in determining Hofstetter's RFC. Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ erred in finding Hofstetter did not meet or equal Listing 8.05. Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ erred “by failing to evaluate the combined effects of all of the impairments of the Plaintiff and by failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of a treating doctor.” (Doc. 19 at 10.) Finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ “and the Commissioner erred as a matter of law in failing to sustain their burden of establishing that there is other work in the national economy that the Plaintiff can perform.” Id. at 14.

         II. The ALJ=s Determination

         The ALJ found that Hofstetter had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 20, 2013, the application date. (Tr. 14.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Hofstetter had the following severe impairments: eczema, atopic dermatitis, xerosis, [2] and asthma. Id. The ALJ found that Hofstetter did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 15.)

         As to Hofstetter's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). He needs to alternate between standing and sitting every 30 minutes for a brief position change; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch; can occasionally crawl; cannot finger; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and humidity, as well as fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation; should avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights; and can tolerate no more than incidental contact with co-workers and no contact with the general public.

(Tr. 16.)

         The ALJ found that Hofstetter's allegations regarding his limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 18.) In determining Hofstetter's RFC, the ALJ indicated that she was assigning “partial weight” to the opinion of treating dermatologist, William V. Stoecker, M.D. Id.

         The ALJ further found that Hofstetter was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ noted that a vocational expert testified that Hofstetter could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as egg processor, production checker, and cutter-paster. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Hofstetter had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since February 20, 2013, the date the application was filed. Id.

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for supplemental security income protectively filed on February 20, 2013, 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 ...

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