United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MELISSA R. CODY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying the
application of Plaintiff Melissa R. Cody
(“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., (the
“Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction
of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 8). Because I find the decision denying
benefits was supported by substantial evidence, I will affirm
the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.
Factual and Procedural Background
January 31, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that
she had been unable to work since January 1, 2009. (Tr.
242-48). Her application was initially denied. (Tr. 133-38).
On March 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 141-42). On December 24,
2015, after two hearings, the ALJ issued a decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 19-37). On December 19, 2016,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
regard to Plaintiff's hearing testimony, work, history,
and medical records, the Court accepts the facts as provided
by the parties in their respective statements of facts and
responses. The Court will address specific facts relevant to
the issues presented in the parties' briefs, as needed,
in the discussion section below.
Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act
defines as disabled a person who is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The
impairment must be “of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the
immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job
vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he
applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605,
611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At
Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
currently engaging in “substantial gainful
activity”; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At
Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has a severe impairment, which is “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the
claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find
the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with
the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines
whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by
comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental
demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f); McCoy,
648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot,
the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step
Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national
economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other
work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that
he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step
Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in
the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064
(8th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ's Decision
the foregoing five-step procedure, the ALJ here found that
Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1,
2009, through her date last insured of December 31, 2014;
that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of a mood disorder,
an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, and obesity (as
well as several non-severe impairments); and that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. 21-26). The ALJ found that through Plaintiff's last
date insured, she had the RFC to perform a range of light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that
she was limited to work that involved only simple, routine
tasks and simple work-related decisions; to work involving
only occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and
supervisors; and to low-stress work, defined as work
involving only occasional decision making and occasional
changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 26). The ALJ found
that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work
but that there were other jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform,
including representative occupations such as sorter,
housekeeper cleaner, and produce weigher. (Tr. 35-36). The
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as
defined by the Act, at any time from January 1, 2009, through
December 31, 2014.
raises three arguments in support of her claim: (1) that the
ALJ violated 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a and Social Security
Ruling 96-3p by failing to identify which of Plaintiff's
mental health diagnoses constituted severe impairments; (2)
that the ALJ violated 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 and Social
Security Ruling 85-15p by failing to perform a careful
evaluation of Plaintiff's impairments found to be
“not severe”; and (3) that the ALJ failed to make
an RFC finding that was supported by substantial evidence on
the record as a whole.
Standard for Judicial Review
decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it complies
with the relevant legal requirements and is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Pate-Fires v.
Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009); Estes v.
Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Renstrom
v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1063 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Moore, 572 F.3d at 522). In determining whether
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
decision, the court considers both evidence that supports
that decision and evidence that detracts from that decision.
Id. However, the court “‘do[es] not
reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, and [it] defer[s]
to the ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of
testimony, as long as those determinations are supported by
good reasons and substantial evidence.'”
Id. at 1064 (quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart,
465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir. 2006)). “If, after
reviewing the record, ...