United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
CHRISTA G. PETERS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Christa Peters seeks review of the decision of Defendant
Nancy Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social
Security Administration (SSA), denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security
(ECF No. 10). Because the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the decision to deny benefits for the
period in question, the Court affirms the denial of
Background and Procedural History
3, 2013, Plaintiff, then thirty-eight years of age, filed an
application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging she
was disabled as of August 15, 2011 as a result of: rheumatoid
arthritis; osteoarthritis; bipolar disorder; attention
deficit disorder; and depression. (Tr. 88, 192). The SSA
denied Plaintiff's claims, and she filed a timely request
for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr.
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on February 25, 2015. (Tr.52-87, 114-21).
After ordering a consultative physical examination and
obtaining additional medical evidence, the ALJ held a
“supplemental hearing” on August 7, 2015. (Tr.
29-51). In a decision dated September 2, 2015, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff “was not under a disability,
as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from
August 15, 2011, the alleged onset date, through March 31,
2015, the date last insured[.]” (TR. 23).
decision, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation set forth
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and found that Plaintiff had the
severe impairments of: degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine; inflammatory arthritis; fibromyalgia;
hypothyroidism; anxiety disorder and depression. (Tr. 16).
The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to:
[p]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except the claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
stoop, kneel and crouch; she should never climb ladders,
ropes or scaffolds or crawl; she can frequently use her upper
extremities for reaching in all directions; she should avoid
even occasional exposure to extremes of cold and vibration.
She should avoid all exposure to hazards, such as unprotected
heights and dangerous machinery. She is capable of performing
simple, routine tasks in a low stress environment, defined as
an environment with only occasional workplace changes and
where contact with supervisors, co-workers and the general
public is occasional. In addition, the claimant must be
allowed to alternate between sitting and standing one to
three (1-3) minutes every hour, but she would be able to
remain at the workstation.
(Tr. 17). Finally, the ALJ concluded: “[C]onsidering
the claimant's age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, the claimant was capable of
making a successful adjustment to other work that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy.” (Tr. 22).
requested review of the ALJ's decision with the SSA
Appeals Council, which denied review on July 5, 2016. (ECF
No. 1-5). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the SSA's
final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07
Standard of Review
must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind might
find it adequate to support the conclusion.'”
Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996)
(quoting Boerst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th
Cir. 1993)). In determining whether the evidence is
substantial, a court considers evidence that both supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.
2009). However, a 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 reason and substantial evidence.” Renstrom v.
Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir.
after reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to
draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of
those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court
must affirm the ALJ's decision.” Partee v.
Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir.
2005)). The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that a court
should “defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions” of the Social Security Administration.
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010);
Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims the ALJ erred in: (1) relying upon the vocational
expert's opinion, which lacked a reasonable basis; and
(2) formulating a hypothetical question that was not
sufficiently specific. (EF No. 10). Defendant counters that
the ALJ “presented a proper hypothetical question to
the vocational expert and properly relied on the vocational