United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
BOBBI J. DELMATER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)
for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy
A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
denying the applications of Plaintiff Bobbi J. Delmater
(“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381,
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
23, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that
she had been unable to work since June 2, 2010, due to
fibromyalgia, depression, bursitis, chronic pain, headaches,
degenerative disc disease, anxiety, restless leg syndrome,
overactive bladder, and fatigue. (Tr. 438-45, 446-47, 461).
Her applications were initially denied. (Tr. 347, 366,
369-73). Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing by an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 377). On
August 24, 2015, Plaintiff amended the alleged disability
onset date to December 11, 2012. (Tr. 456). On September 14,
2015, following a hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not under a “disability” as defined in the Act.
(Tr. 8-27). On November 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Request
for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council. (Tr. 39). On August 26,
2016, the Appeals Council declined to review the case. (Tr.
1-4). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies,
and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
hearing before the ALJ, held on August 25, 2015, Plaintiff
testified as follows. She was 44 years old; was five feet,
seven inches tall; and weighed 260 pounds. (Tr. 299, 301).
She lived with her husband and sixteen-year-old son. (Tr.
301). She was able to drive herself to appointments and
stores. (Tr. 301). She had completed two years of college and
could read, write, and do simple math. (Tr. 301-02). She had
worked in the past doing secretarial and housekeeping work
and also at an insurance company, processing claims. (Tr.
testified that the main reason she has been unable to work is
her fibromyalgia, which causes pain in her neck, back, and
other areas. (Tr. 306). She also testified that she has
degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, irritable
bowel syndrome, and restless leg syndrome. (Tr. 312-16, 322).
She testified that because of her pain, she has difficulty
washing her hair, and it takes her two to three days to clean
the house because she has to take breaks. (Tr. 306). She
testified that she can stand for seven to ten minutes before
having problems and can sit for 20 minutes before she needs
to change positions. (Tr. 308). She also testified that her
neck surgery helped with her neck pain, but it is still
stiff. (Tr. 313-14). She testified that the stimulator that
was put in her lower back helps with her back pain in one
particular area but that she still has issues with the rest
of her back from degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 314-15). She
also testified that she has carpal tunnel syndrome in her
right wrist and that she often drops things. (Tr. 312, 322).
She has fatigue and naps at least once a day. (Tr. 319). She
sometimes elevates her feet for half an hour because of
swelling, but not every day. (Tr. 320)
testified that she has trouble concentrating and that her
short-term memory is very bad. (Tr. 306, 309). She often sits
down to do one task and gets diverted. (Tr. 310). Her
short-term memory is so bad that her family has to constantly
remind her that she has already told them something or
already asked them a question. (Tr. 310). She has depression,
feels that she is worthless and cannot do what she has done
in the past, and has crying spells at least once or twice a
week, lasting for an hour. (Tr. 317-18). She also thinks she
has “maybe anxiety as well, too, ” which causes
her to worry about bills and other things. (Tr. 318).
regard to Plaintiff's medical records and work history,
the Court accepts the facts as presented in the parties'
respective statements of facts and responses. The Court will
discuss specific facts relevant to the parties' arguments
as needed in the discussion 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);
1382c(a)(3)(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); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(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),
416.920(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), 416.920(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(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),
416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
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 analysis, the ALJ here found that
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2015; that she has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 11, 2012, the
alleged onset date; and that she had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine, fibromyalgia, mild carpal tunnel syndrome
status post surgeries, a depressive disorder, an anxiety
disorder, and obesity. (Tr. 13). The ALJ found 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. 14). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following RFC:
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) except the claimant can never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally climb stairs or
ramps. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl.
She should avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and
moving and dangerous machinery. She is limited to work
involving simple, routine tasks and simple work related
decisions. She is limited to work involving only occasional
interactions with the public and coworkers. She can perform
work that involves only occasional decision making and
changes in the work setting. The claimant is also limited to
frequent use of her upper extremities for handling,
fingering, and reaching.
(Tr. 16-17). At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not able to perform her past relevant work as a claims
processor. (Tr. 25). However, at Step Five, relying on the
testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was capable of performing other jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, including
representative occupations such as sealer and semi-conductor
bonder. (Tr. 26). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not
been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from December
11, 2012, through September 14, 2015, the date of his
decision. (Tr. 27).
challenges the ALJ's decision on two grounds: (1) that
the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by
substantial evidence; and (2) that the ALJ erred by failing
to give controlling weight to the opinions of treating
rheumatologist Dr. Chad Ronholm and treating psychiatrist Dr.
Standard for ...