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Key v. Berryhill

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

February 12, 2019

SHERI A. KEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Sheri A. Key's application for supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416, et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 8.] Key alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, manic depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, migraines, learning disabilities, and mood swings. (Tr. 192.) Based on the following, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. Background

         On November 6, 2014, Key applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning November 5, 2014. (Tr. 171, 187.) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Key's claim and Key filed a timely request for hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 90-96, 99-101.) The SSA granted Key's request for review, and an administrative hearing was held on July 28, 2016. (Tr. 48-75, 126-133.) Key, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. (Tr. 50-71.) Vocational expert, Michelle Peters-Pagella, also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 71-74.)

         On August 25, 2016, the ALJ found Key not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr. 18-29.) Key requested a review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. (Tr. 164.) On August 23, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Key's request for review. (Tr. 1-7.) The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Key filed this appeal on October 23, 2017. [Doc. 1] The Commissioner filed an Answer and the certified Administrative Transcript on December 27, 2017. [Docs. 11, 12.] Key filed a Brief in Support of the Complaint on January 24, 2018. [Doc. 13.] The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on April 19, 2018. [Doc. 18.] Key then filed a Reply Brief on April 20, 2018. [Doc. 19.]

         II. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability 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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1)(A).

         The SSA uses a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e).

         Fourth, the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 726 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003).

         III. ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ determined that Key had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 5, 2014. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following impairments: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Tr. 20.) The ALJ also 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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following limitations: (1) must avoid exposure to hazardous work environments; (2) avoid climbing ropes or ladders; (3) limited to remembering and performing out simple, routine tasks; (4) limited to making simple work-related decisions; (5) frequent contact with supervisors but only occasional contact with coworkers and the general public; (6) cannot perform any tasks that require tandem work with coworkers; and (7) work will be off-task ten percent of the workday. (Tr. 23.) Although the ALJ determined that Key was unable to perform any past relevant work, she opined that Key would be able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 27-28.) Finally, the ALJ held that Key had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, since November 6, 2014, the date the application was filed. (Tr. 28.)

         IV. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ:

         A. Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ heard testimony from Key and Michelle Peters-Pagella, the vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 48-75.) Plaintiff ...

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