United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
RONI R. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for
judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the final
decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act
(Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1385. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court will affirm the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications.
September 24, 2013, following a hearing, in a partially
favorable decision, an ALJ found the Plaintiff was disabled
beginning December 18, 2009, but was not disabled prior to
that. On May 12, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the case
to the ALJ. On April 16, 2015, following a hearing, an ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not under a “disability”
as defined in the Act during any portion of the period of
February 6, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Dennis LeBlanc
conducted a video hearing from Columbia, Missouri to
Hannibal, Missouri. Plaintiff appeared in Hannibal, Missouri.
Ms. Denise Weaver, Vocational Expert also appeared.
resided in Louisiana, Missouri at the time of the hearing.
Plaintiff is single and has four children. She was 37 years
old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff completed two years
since 2009, has suffered from headaches and nausea due to her
sensitivity to light. She also experiences thoracic outlet
syndrome, which she suggests is like being knotted up in her
neck and the sensation/ pain goes to her head and shoulders.
She believes there might be a relationship between this pain
and the headaches. The Plaintiff also testified she has
difficulty with the use of her right hand in that it cramps
up, gets cold and sometimes loses feeling in the fingertips.
She believes she has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel
syndrome in regard to her hand.
further examination by counsel for Plaintiff and the ALJ,
Plaintiff testified that she has difficulty with her left
ankle. Her ankle had been broken and required a plate with
screws to repair the break. Three surgeries were performed
but the ankle is still troubling for her. It gets swollen
from time to time and is painful on a daily basis. Plaintiff
also testified that she has seizures while sleeping and
sometimes during the daylight hours.
regard to her mental health Plaintiff stated she has been
diagnosed with depression, AD/HD and OCD. For these
conditions Plaintiff takes Adderall for AD/HD, Flexeril,
Benadryl to help her sleep, Keppra for seizures and speech
issues, Lamictal for seizures, Norco for pain, and Nexium for
acid reflux. She also takes Prozac for depression and
was testimony from Denise Weaver, the Vocational Expert. Ms.
Weaver testified regarding Plaintiff, who had no relevant
past work, and consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational
titles. Based upon that consideration and the stated
hypotheticals of the ALJ, including stated limitations, the
Vocational Expert concluded there was work in the national
economy available for Plaintiff as a folding machine operator
in the clerical work environment. The Vocational Expert also
testified there was work available as a garment sorter in the
garment industry. There was also work available as a mail
adding additional limitations of handling and fingering in
occasional use, the Vocational Expert found work available in
the recreational industry as an usher and in the wood
products industry as a laminating machine off bearer.
determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to a finding of
disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review on September 23, 2016. The decision of the ALJ is
now the final decision for review by this court.
issues in a Social Security case are whether the final
decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Social
Security Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and
whether the findings of fact by the ALJ are supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Here the
Plaintiff asserts the specific issues in this case are:
whether (1) the ALJ properly developed the record; (2)
appropriately considered Plaintiff's “severe”
impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation process;
(3) properly evaluated the consistency of Plaintiff's
subjective complaints with the record as a whole; (4)
correctly considered Plaintiff's RFC; and (5) whether the
testimony of the vocational expert constitutes substantial
evidence supporting the ALJ's determination.
for Determining Disability
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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
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 [the claimant] 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether
an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 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 ALJ
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 ALJ 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 ALJ 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).
If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will
find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ 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 ALJ must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his] 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 ALJ
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 ALJ 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
the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant
number of jobs within ...