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Barton v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2018

NAOMI K. BARTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         This action is before this Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that Plaintiff Naomi K. Barton was not disabled, and thus not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.


         Plaintiff, who was born on September 4, 1969, protectively filed her application for benefits on April 18, 2014, alleging disability beginning November 6, 2013, due to rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), fibromyalgia, depression, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, and plantar fasciitis. On May 27, 2014, Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial administrative level, and she thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         A hearing was held on November 23, 2015, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. By decision dated December 15, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work” as defined by the Commissioner's regulations, except that Plaintiff was further limited as follows:

[S]he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or be exposed to unprotected heights or hazardous work environments. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She can occasionally reach overhead with either or both upper extremities. She can frequently perform tasks that require fingering or handling. She requires a sit/stand option allowing her to shift position hourly while remaining on task. She could tolerate occasional exposure to extreme cold, heat, or humidity. She is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, routine tasks and making simple work-related decisions. She would not be able to perform production rate pace tasks but would meet all end-of-day goals. She would have only brief, incidental contact with co-workers, for example, no tandem tasks requiring cooperation with co-workers to complete the tasks. She would have frequent contact with supervisors.

Tr. 18.

         The ALJ next found that Plaintiff could perform certain light unskilled jobs listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) (folding machine operator and routing clerk), as well as a sedentary unskilled job listed in the DOT (document preparer), which the VE testified that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational factors (age, education, work experience) could perform and that were available in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a timely request for review by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration, which was denied on November 15, 2016. Plaintiff has thus exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the final agency action now under review.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in formulating her RFC by failing to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence provided by Plaintiff's treating physicians, and by failing to properly incorporate all aspects of the opinion of non-examining physician, Stuart Glassman, M.D, [2] a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, despite giving that opinion “great weight.” Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and that she be awarded benefits, or alternatively, that the case be remanded for further development of the record.

         Agency Records, Medical Records, and Evidentiary Hearing

         The Court adopts the statement of facts set forth in Plaintiff's Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF No. 17-1), which facts have been admitted by Defendant, with only one minor, non-material clarification (ECF No. 21-1). This statement provides a fair description of the record before the Court. Specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         ALJ's Decision Under Review (Tr. 8-31)

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity; RA, which Plaintiff alleged was exacerbated by changes in weather and other factors; degenerative disc disease at all levels of the spine; osteoarthritis in the bilateral feet; affective disorder; and anxiety, but that none of these impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of the impairments listed in the Commissioner's regulations.

         The ALJ noted that Plaintiff also alleged fibromyalgia, but the ALJ concluded that the record only contained sporadic physical examination findings consistent with fibromyalgia, and the record did not contain a diagnosis of fibromyalgia by an acceptable medical source. Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia was not a medically determinable impairment. Nevertheless, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff's treating primary care physician, Nancy Mabe, M.D., released Plaintiff to work with a limitation of no prolonged standing, after a two-week work-restriction due to Plaintiff's allegations of pain associated with fibromyalgia. The ALJ concluded that, although fibromyalgia was a non-medically determinable impairment in this case, the limitation of no ...

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