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Hanke v. Berryhill

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

May 23, 2018

KRISTI HANKE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This action is before this Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that Plaintiff Kristi Hanke was not disabled, and thus not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, or supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.


         Plaintiff, who was born on January 9, 1975, protectively filed her applications for benefits in May 2015, alleging disability beginning May 22, 2014, due to anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder (“ADD”). On June 29, 2015, Plaintiff's applications were denied at the initial administrative level, and she thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         A hearing was held on October 21, 2016, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. By decision dated November 18, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels as defined by the Commissioner's regulations, except that Plaintiff had the following non-exertional limitations:

[She] is limited to simple, routine, tasks; must have minimal changes in job setting and duties; no contact with the general public; only occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors; no handling of customer complaints; no fast paced production work; can only work in small, familiar groups of five or less people; and contact with coworkers and supervisors, while occasional, can only be brief and superficial.

Tr. 14.

         The ALJ next found that Plaintiff could perform certain unskilled jobs listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) (order picker, hand packager, or small products assembler), which the VE testified that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational factors (age, education, work experience) could perform and that were available in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed a timely request for review by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration, which was denied on March 10, 2017. Plaintiff has thus exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the final agency action now under review.

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC finding is not supported by medical evidence and is erroneous because the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence provided by Plaintiff's primary care provider, Cassandra Edwards, D.O., and Plaintiff's licensed professional counselor, Theresa Schroeder, L.P.C. Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and that she be awarded benefits, or alternatively, that the case be remanded for further development of the record.

         Agency Records, Medical Records, Evidentiary Hearing, and ALJ's Decision

         The Court adopts the statement of facts set forth in Plaintiff's Statement of Uncontroverted Facts, which is contained in Plaintiff's brief (ECF No. 14), as amended by Defendant (ECF No. 19-1), and Defendant's Statement of Additional Facts (ECF No. 19-2), which Plaintiff has not opposed. Together, these statements provide a fair description of the record before the Court. Specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.


         Standard of Review and Statutory Framework

         In reviewing the denial of Social Security disability benefits, a court must review the entire administrative record to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Johnson v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2011). The court “may not reverse merely because substantial evidence would support a contrary outcome. Substantial evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (citations omitted). A reviewing court “must consider evidence that both supports and detracts from the ALJ's decision. If, after review, [the court finds] it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's findings, [the court] must affirm the decision of the Commissioner.” Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). Put another way, a court should ‚Äúdisturb the ALJ's decision only if it falls outside the available ...

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