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Pearl v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

August 1, 2018

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



         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in October 1980, and has two years of high school education. R. at 19, 39-40. She previously worked as a skip tracer, cashier, and store laborer. R. at 57-58, 200-06. Plaintiff applied for disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2009. R. at 10, 179. Plaintiff's applications were denied, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. 105. A hearing was held on August 8, 2016. R. at 35-62. In November 2016, ALJ Mark Naggi issued his decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 7-21.

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, a history of carpal tunnel syndrome, attention deficit disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. R. at 12. The ALJ determined Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) in that she can lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk about 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday, with normal breaks; can sit for about 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday, with normal breaks; and can push and/or pull the same weights. [Plaintiff] cannot work around unprotected heights; is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no production rate pace work, such as assembly line work, but could perform goal-oriented work such as office cleaning; is limited to simple work-related decisions; can have frequent interaction with supervisors; can have occasional interaction with co-workers and the general public; and would be off task 5 percent of the time in an eight-hour workday.

R. at 15. Based upon the RFC and the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a retail marker, inserting machine operator, and laundry sorter. R. at 20. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her appeal. R. at 1-5. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.


         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).


         A. Plaintiff's RFC

         One's RFC is the “most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ must base the RFC on “all of the relevant evidence, including the medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual's own description of his limitations.” McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). Because Plaintiff's RFC is a medical question, “an ALJ's assessment of it must be supported by some medical evidence of [Plaintiff's] ability to function in the workplace.” Hensley v. Colvin, 829 f.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “However, there is no requirement that an RFC finding be supported by a specific medical opinion.” Id. (citations omitted).

         Plaintiff argues the RFC is unsupported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ erred by failing to order a consultative exam to assess Plaintiff's physical limitations related to obesity and carpal tunnel syndrome. In determining the RFC, the ALJ considered, among other things, Plaintiff's treatment records; statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of those symptoms; activities of daily living; compliance with treatment; and a third party function report submitted by Plaintiff's fiancé. R. at 15-19.

         The ALJ specifically noted Plaintiff's “treatment records do not document any specific symptoms or limitations that are attributed to obesity.” R. at 16. Although Plaintiff argues greater limitations related to her obesity should have been included, she does not specify or point to evidence in the record demonstrating what those limitations are. The ALJ has a responsibility to develop the record fairly and fully, but is not obligated to seek additional opinions unless a “crucial issue is undeveloped.” Combs v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 642, 646-47 (8th Cir. 2017) (citations and quotation omitted). The ...

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