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Wright v. Berryhill

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

March 1, 2019

MICHELE L. WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Michele L. Wright brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Wright's severe physical and mental impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and remanded.

         I. Procedural History

         Wright filed an application for benefits under Title XVI on August 28, 2012, claiming that she became unable to work on June 21, 2011, [1] because of a hernia, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), schizoaffective disorder, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. (Tr. 409, 414.) Wright's claim was denied initially. (Tr. 146.) Following two administrative hearings, Wright's claim was denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated April 24, 2014. (Tr. 122-38.) On December 23, 2015, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA) granted review and remanded the case to an ALJ for further development and consideration. (Tr. 141-42.) On July 13, 2016, after a third administrative hearing, a second ALJ found Wright was not disabled. (Tr. 9-29.) The Appeals Council denied Wright's request for review on August 13, 2017. (Tr. 1-4.) Thus, the decision of the second ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In the instant action, Wright argues that the ALJ erred “in failing to weigh or articulate consideration of Dr. Hampton's opinions.” (Doc. 14 at 8.) Wright next contends that the ALJ erred in “failing to articulate consideration of evidence of Plaintiff's inability to maintain regular attendance, and in failing to weigh that consistent aspect of all three treating source opinions.” Id. at 11.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ found that Wright has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application date of August 28, 2012. (Tr. 14.)

         In addition, the ALJ concluded that Wright had the following severe impairments: obesity, a ventral hernia, anemia, mood disorder, psychotic disorder/schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, borderline intellectual functioning, alcohol abuse disorder, and cannabis use disorder. (Tr. 15.) The ALJ found that Wright did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. Id.

         As to Wright's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) in that she can lift, carry, push, or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit for 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday; stand or walk for 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday; never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; and occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and non-detailed tasks; however, she must have only minimal changes in job setting or duties; no contact with the general public; only occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors; and may not perform fast paced production work.

(Tr. 17.)

         The ALJ found that Wright's allegations regarding the extent of her limitations were not entirely consistent with the record. (Tr. 22.) In determining Wright's mental RFC, the ALJ indicated that she was assigning “little weight” to the opinions of treating psychiatrist Daniel Murray, M.D.; some weight to the opinion of nurse practitioner Laura Romer, APRN; and great weight to the opinions of treating psychiatrist Luigi Cardella, M.D., and state agency psychologist James Spence, Ph.D. (Tr. 20-22.)

         The ALJ further found that Wright was unable to perform past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in the national economy, such as cleaner, routing clerk, and mail clerk. (Tr. 23.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Wright has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 28, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 24.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for supplemental security income filed on August 28, 2012, the claimant is not disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act.

Id.

         III. Applicable Law

         III. A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review ...


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