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Robinson v. Berryhill

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

March 4, 2019

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



         This matter is before the Court, pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), authorizing judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         Plaintiff originally filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., on September 15, 2010. After the claim was denied Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing which was held and another Administrative Law Judge issued an unfavorable decision. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on February 3, 2014. Pursuit of that claim ended.

         On April 3, 2014 Plaintiff filed a claim for supplemental security benefits alleging disability beginning November 30, 2012. It is the denial of that claim which is the subject of this proceeding.

         On August 17, 2016 a hearing was conducted by ALJ Robert G. O'Blennis in Creve Coeur, Missouri. Plaintiff appeared in person and with counsel. Also in appearance was Harold Taylor, a Vocational Expert.

         Plaintiff was born on July 31, 1956. She was 60 years old at the time of hearing on August 17, 2016. Plaintiff has a tenth grade education and was not successful in securing her GED, although she attempted on two occasions. She has had work training and experience as a beautician. She was about 57 years old at the time of onset. There is testimony that Plaintiff lives with her 22 year old grandson.

         Plaintiff testified that the basis for her condition is the result of a fall she experienced while working at a fast food restaurant. She noted it was a real bad fall and “messed” up three discs in her back. Surgery was recommended but she opted for therapy, exercises and chiropractic care.

         There was testimony from Plaintiff that she takes gabapentin and ibuprofen. She also sees Dr. Spearman, Dr. Walls, and Dr. Hilliard for treatment of her malady. She testified that she also takes sertraline and Focalin for her depression as well as something for her anxiety.

         During her examination Plaintiff testified she had difficulty mopping, sweeping, lifting clothes, and wringing a mop because it was too difficult on her arms and hands. On the issue of her mental state she testified she hears voices all the time all day; that she was traumatized as a child who was the victim of sexual abuse; that she doesn't like to be around people and doesn't want to be around people. She further testified that as long as she stays on her meds her psychiatric condition stays the same.

         Next, the Vocational Expert, Harold Taylor, testified without any objection to his qualifications. Taylor testified as to the past work of Plaintiff as a phlebotomist which is light exertional and semiskilled. She also had past work as a receptionist, which is sedentary and semiskilled. Further, based upon a proper hypothetical, with specific limitations of: only lifting 50 pounds on occasion and 25 pounds frequently; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs; occasionally stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; avoiding climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; avoiding working at unprotected dangerous height and around unprotected dangerous machinery; frequent reaching in front or bilaterally with the left upper extremity; and the person should avoid jobs with whole body vibration, the Vocational expert testified there would be work available for Plaintiff, including her past relevant work. However, if there was further limitation to medium level with restrictions of occasional use of bilateral upper extremities and lifting and reaching there would be no jobs available. If the person was limited to simple and/or repetitive which did not require close interaction with the public her past work would be excluded but there would be jobs available at the medium level of exertion. Mr. Taylor also testified that the work was consistent the DOT and Selected Characteristics of Occupation.

         Accordingly, the ALJ held, on November 4, 2016, that Plaintiff was not under any disability since the date the application was filed on April 3, 2014. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments which included bilateral osteoarthritis of glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joints and major depressive disorder. The ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform medium work except she can lift and carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently. In addition she can climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Plaintiff can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She has to avoid work at unprotected heights and around dangerous machinery. She can frequently reach in front and laterally bilaterally. She can reach overhead bilaterally frequently, but not repetitively. The ALJ concluded there were no limits on handling and fingering objects and she must avoid work that would expose her whole body to vibrations. Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform work that involves simple and/or repetitive tasks with no close interaction with people. Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         On September 27, 2017, the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review.

         Statement of the Issues

         The general issues in a Social Security case are whether the final decision of the Commissioner is consistent with the Social Security Act, regulations, and applicable case law, and whether the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The specific issues in this case are whether there is substantial evidence in support of the Residual Functional Capacity determination and whether the ALJ properly considered medical opinion evidence in making that determination.

         As explained below, the Court has considered the entire record in this matter. The decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and it will be affirmed.

         Standard for Determining Disability

         The standard of review here is limited to a determination of whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015). Substantial evidence is less than preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind ...

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