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Squires v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Melissa Squires 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Squires' severe physical and mental impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that existed 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 to the Commissioner.

         I. Procedural History

         Squires filed an application for DIB on June 24, 2015, claiming that she became unable to work on November 10, 2011, [1] because of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), arthritis, lower back pain, hip pain, shoulder impingement, bilateral foot pain, ankle pain, joint pain, and fibromyalgia. (Tr. 271.) Squires was 44 years of age on her alleged onset of disability date. Id. Her claims were denied initially. (Tr. 126-34.) Following an administrative hearing, Squires' claim was denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated July 18, 2016. (Tr. 11-26.) Squires 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 November 2, 2016. (Tr. 7, 1-6.) 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, Squires first argues that the “basis for the RFC is unclear and it is not supported by substantial evidence.” (Doc. 21 at 4.) She next claims that the ALJ “erroneously afforded Dr. Ghosh's opinion ‘little' weight.” Id. at 8. Finally, Squires argues that the ALJ “failed to make a proper credibility determination.” Id. at 21.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first noted that Squires meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2020, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2014, her amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 13.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Squires had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; right shoulder impingement; fracture and reconstruction of the left distal radial ulnar joint; left ankle anterior talofibular ligament tear; asthma; obesity; depression; anxiety; and PTSD. Id. The ALJ found that Squires did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 15.)

         As to Squires' 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) in that she can perform occasional lifting up to 10 pounds and the frequent lifting/carrying less than 10 pounds; standing or walking 2 hours out of an 8 hour workday and sitting 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday. In addition, she requires a sit/stand option allowing a change in position every 30 minutes for a few minutes a time while remaining at the workstation. She can never climb on ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can no more than occasionally climb on ramps and stairs. She can no more than frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. Overhead reaching is limited to frequent. Handling is limited to frequent. She should avoid even moderate exposure to vibration, wetness, humidity, and pulmonary irritants, such as gas, fumes, odors, dusts, and workspace with poor ventilation. She should avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards, such as unprotected heights and being around dangerous, moving machinery. She [is] able to understand, remember, and carry out simple to moderately complex instructions consistent with semi-skilled work. She can tolerate occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. She can have no contact with the general public.

(Tr. 18.)

         The ALJ found that Squires' allegations regarding the extent of her limitations were not entirely credible. (Tr. 19.) In determining Squires' RFC, the ALJ indicated that she was assigning “little weight” to the opinions of treating rheumatologist Sanjay Ghosh, M.D. (Tr. 22.)

         The ALJ further found that Squires was unable to perform past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy, such as addresser and document preparer. (Tr. 24-25.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Squires was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2014, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 25.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits protectively filed on June 24, 2015, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.

(Tr. 26.)

         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 ...

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