United States District Court, E.D. Missouri
STEPHANIE L. LANE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying the application
of Stephanie Lane (“Plaintiff”) for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et
seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the
Complaint (ECF 15), Defendant has filed a brief in support of
the Answer (ECF 22), and Plaintiff filed a reply brief (ECF
filed her application for DIB and SSI under Titles II and XVI
of the Social Security Act on March 28, 2014 (Tr. 19).
Plaintiff was initially denied relief on April 24, 2014, and
she filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on June 20, 2014 (Tr. 93-96,
98-99). After a hearing, in a decision dated July 28, 2016,
the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 19-32).
Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing
Decision on August 2, 2016 (Tr. 148). On July 13, 2017,
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
(Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff appealed to the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on September 12,
2017 (ECF 1). The ALJ's decision stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined Plaintiff meets the insured status requirement of
the Social Security Act through September 30, 2014, and
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 28, 2009, the alleged onset of her disability
(Tr. 21). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments
of obesity and degenerative disc disease with fusion (Tr.
21). Additionally, the ALJ found Plaintiff has non-severe
impairments including diabetes, hypertension, headaches, and
neurogenic syncope which do not have more than a minimal
effect on Plaintiff's ability to work (Tr. 21). These
non-severe impairments were considered by the ALJ when
determining Plaintiff's Residual Functioning Capacity
(“RFC”) (Tr. 21-22). The ALJ found no impairment
or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 22).
conducted a hearing with Plaintiff, her counsel, and a
vocational expert on February 17, 2016 (Tr. 39). At the
beginning of the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel indicated
there were additional records from Dr. Kevin Rutz and Mercy
Medical Center which were unlikely to add anything to the
proceeding, and the ALJ decided the record would be held open
for thirty days to allow for the receipt and consideration of
those records (Tr. 41).
testimony before the ALJ on February 17, 2016, Plaintiff
testified she had worked as a designer and lead engineer at
Children's Factory Inc. for approximately 14 years, with
her employment ending there in 2009 (Tr. 46). Plaintiff then
testified she was terminated for “job
abandonment” which Plaintiff attributed to absences
related to her pregnancy (Tr. 46-47).
around 2009, Plaintiff received unemployment benefits and
cashed out her existing retirement account to help pay
medical bills (Tr. 47-49).
testified she had back surgery in 2004 to fuse C6 and C7 in
her spine, and then had an additional surgery to correct a
disc protrusion below her earlier fusion, but the surgery
“didn't fix it[, i]t just moved it to another
location” (Tr. 46, 53-54). In addition to surgery,
Plaintiff takes medication for migraine headaches and visits
a chiropractor and massage therapist to help ease her pain in
the short-term (Tr. 57-58, 63). She also performs
traction approximately three times a day for 10
minutes to help with pain relief, usually once in the
morning, once in the afternoon, and once before bed (Tr.
62-63). Plaintiff also testified she has seen her
chiropractor and a massage therapist since she was 19 years
(Tr. 58-59). Further, Plaintiff possesses a driver's
license which does not contain any restrictions (Tr. 49-50).
testified she lives with her husband, three school-aged
children, who are eighteen, six, and four, as well as two
dogs (Tr. 42). Her six year old child has been diagnosed with
ADHD (Tr. 43). She further testified her husband is a utility
grade three worker at a factory making approximately $15 an
hour, plus overtime, working a fixed shift from 11 P.M. to 7
A.M. (Tr. 43, 49). Plaintiff testified her husband has to
carry items up and down the stairs such as large loads of
laundry, because her pain prevents her from being able to do
so (Tr. 45). She testified her parents live next door and
often assist her with tasks such as cooking, because she is
only able to prepare small, simple meals on her own (Tr. 50).
Plaintiff noted she is only able to wash a small amount of
dishes in short 10-15 minute increments and requires someone
else to wash the pots, pans, and other “awkward”
dishes (Tr. 51). Trips to the grocery store require her
husband's assistance for anything more than small items,
because she is unable to push the cart (Tr. 45). When it
comes to taking care of her children, Plaintiff testified she
is unable to pick up her 4 year old, who is 42 pounds, and
someone else has to give the children their baths, because
she is unable to bend down (Tr. 52). Plaintiff noted even
simple activities, such as watching TV, require her to take a
break after about 30 minutes to move around (Tr. 61).
vocational expert, Jennifer DeShay, testified Plaintiff's
prior job is classified as an Industrial Designer under the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (Tr. 67). Plaintiff's
counsel contends Plaintiff's physical issues limit her to
simple, routine tasks, and require unscheduled disruptions of
her work schedule (Tr. 70). The vocational expert testified
the defendant cannot perform any of her past work; however,
she is able to work in positions classified as
“light”including as a counter clerk-photo,
furniture rental consultant, and usher (Tr. 68-69). The
vocational expert also noted those positions do not have a
sit/stand option when combined with the need to be classified
as “light” (Tr. 69-70).
considering the entire record, including Plaintiff's
testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the Residual
Functioning Capacity (“RFC”) to preform light
work except she is limited to frequently reaching, handling,
and fingering (Tr. 22). The ALJ further concluded Plaintiff
is unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 30). The ALJ
found there are jobs which exist in significant numbers in
the national economy which Plaintiff can perform, including
counter clerk, furniture real estate consultant, or usher
found no impairment or combination of impairments which meets
or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr.
22). Plaintiff appeals arguing the ALJ failed to consider
Plaintiff's need for leave to attend appointments and
excessive breaks for stretching when determining
Plaintiff's RFC, and the ALJ failed to properly consider
medical opinion evidence from Plaintiff's chiropractor
and massage therapist (ECF 15 at 2).
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner must follow a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. “If
a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the
evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant
is determined to be not disabled.” Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th
Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, first the claimant
cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful
activity” to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant
must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines
“severe impairment” as “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits
[claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. . . .” Id. “‘The
sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two
only when the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his
or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue,
484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing
Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d).
If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of,
these impairments, then the claimant is per se
disabled without consideration of the claimant's age,
education, or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant's ...