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Robbins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri

March 21, 2019

DEBORAH L. ROBBINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is 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 Deborah Robbins (“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint (ECF No. 21) and Defendant has filed a brief in support of the Answer (ECF No. 27).

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed her application for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act on March 13, 2014. Plaintiff claimed she became disabled on November 12, 2010, because of spinal stenosis, feet-swelling, neck spurs, arthritis in the right hand and knees, osteoarthritis and a degenerating disk in her back, depression, and the inability to lift anything heavy. (Tr. 164.) Plaintiff was initially denied relief on April 29, 2014. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 320-61.) At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her disability onset date to December 14, 2012. (Tr. 44, 157.) After the hearing, by a decision dated May 20, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 23-40.) On June 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6.) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         In this action for judicial review, Plaintiff claims the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that: 1) the ALJ erred in weighing the medical opinion evidence because the ALJ gave Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Indu Patel's opinion “partial” and not controlling weight; and 2) the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) as her determination excluded a sit/stand option.

         For the reasons that follow, the ALJ did not err in her determination.

         II. Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, the Court adopts Plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in her Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF 22) and notes that they are admitted in their entirety by the Commissioner (ECF 27-1). The Court also adopts the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Facts (ECF 27-2) and notes they are unrefuted by Plaintiff. Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate description of the relevant record before the Court.

         Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' argument.

         III. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, Robbins must prove that she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines disability as the “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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual will be declared disabled “only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         Under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a). ‘“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)). First, the claimant must not be engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a).

         Second, the claimant must have a “severe impairment, ” defined as “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). ‘“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)).

         Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment 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.

         Before considering step four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). RFC is defined as “the most a claimant can do despite her limitations.” Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)). At step four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to her past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011). If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, he will not be found to be disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

         At step five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to see if the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, then he will be found to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Through step four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Brantley v. Colvin, No. 4:10CV2184 HEA, 2013 WL 4007441, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 2, 2013) (citation omitted). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs within the national economy. Id. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however, remains with the claimant.” Meyerpeter v. Astrue, 902 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1229 (E.D. Mo. 2012) (citations omitted).

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision 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 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). Determining whether there is substantial evidence requires scrutinizing analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review the entire administrative record and consider: 1) the credibility findings made by the ALJ; 2) the plaintiff's vocational factors; 3) the medical evidence from treating and consulting physicians; 4) the plaintiff's subjective complaints relating to exertional and non-exertional activities and impairments; 5) any corroboration by third parties of the plaintiff's impairments; 6) the testimony of vocational experts, when required, which is based upon a proper hypothetical question, which sets forth the claimant's impairment. Stewart v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 581, 585-86 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal citations omitted). See also Frederick v. Berryhill, 247 F.Supp.3d 1014, 1018-19 (E.D. Mo. 2017).

         The Court must consider evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision as well as any evidence that fairly detracts from the decision. McNamara v. Astrue, 590 F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010). If, after reviewing the entire record, it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions and the Commissioner has adopted one of those positions, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). The Court may not reverse the ...


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