United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy
Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration
(the “Commissioner”) denying the application of
Plaintiff Sandra Landers (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq. (the “Act”). The parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate
judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 5). Because
I find the decision denying benefits was supported by
substantial evidence, I will affirm the Commissioner's
denial of Plaintiff's application.
2014, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging that
she had been unable to work since October 1, 2012 due to
bipolar disorder, depression, dementia, learning disability,
and dyslexia. (Tr. 152-55, 179). Her application was
initially denied. (Tr. 94-97). On November 12, 2014,
Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 98-99). On August 8, 2016, the
ALJ held a hearing. (Tr. 51-79). On October 3, 2016, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not
disabled. (Tr. 32-50). On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a
Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social
Security Administration's Appeals Council. (Tr. 147-51).
On October 10, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to review
the case. (Tr. 1-7). Plaintiff has exhausted all
administrative remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands
as the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified as follows.
Plaintiff was born on November 10, 1955. (Tr. 58). She
graduated from high school. (Tr. 59). She last worked in
2012, cleaning a courthouse; she was fired because she was
too slow at the job. (Tr. 60, 64-65). In that job, she
emptied trash, cleaned bathrooms, and cleaned floors. (Tr.
64-65). She tried working for one day in 2013, but her arms
could not do the lifting required due to her carpal tunnel
syndrome. (Tr. 61). Plaintiff testified that she did not
think she could work a full-time job due to her right knee
and her inability to concentrate. (Tr. 66). She has problems
concentrating on cleaning and making supper; she is
“dumbfounded when it comes to it.” (Tr. 68-69).
She testified that her concentration issues began around
January 2013, when she had a nervous breakdown. (Tr. 67). She
testified that aside from her concentration problems, she
feels okay mentally as long as she is taking her medicine.
(Tr. 68). She also testified that she has thyroid problems
and migraine headaches. (Tr. 69, 71).
testified that she sometimes cannot find places when she is
driving. (Tr. 72). She has no friends. (Tr. 73). She spends
most of her time at home, sitting or lying down. (Tr. 74).
She sometimes has trouble sleeping. (Tr. 74-75).
Function Report was completed by her husband on June 13,
2014. (Tr. 191-98). Plaintiff's husband reported,
inter alia, that Plaintiff was “unable to
function normally in any social construct” (Tr. 191);
that she has problems with oral and written communication
skills (Tr. 191); that she has memory lapses (Tr. 191); that
she becomes combative and argumentative under any kind of
normal stress (Tr. 191); that she is easily overwhelmed with
any simple mental challenge (Tr. 191); that she quickly loses
her temper and becomes aggressive when confronted (Tr. 191);
that she has problems with hygiene and grooming (Tr. 191-92);
that she has difficulty motivating herself to improve her
condition (Tr. 191); that she has to be constantly cajoled to
clean herself up to feel better (Tr. 193); that she needs
occasional reminders to take medicine (Tr. 193); that she
prepares her own meals occasionally, such as sandwiches and
snacks, but is totally unmotivated to cook other things (Tr.
193); that she must be strongly urged to assist with
household chores (Tr. 193); that she shops and drives (Tr.
194); that she is not able to pay bills because she forgets
important payments and gets confused about amounts (Tr. 194);
that she cannot do simple math (Tr. 194); that she used to
have friends, take walks, and cross-stitch, but now watches
television constantly (Tr. 195); that she does not spend time
with others (Tr. 195); that she is no longer the person she
was starting about four years ago (Tr. 195); that she has
problems understanding and following instructions, paying
attention, and getting along with others (Tr. 196); and that
she could be a danger to herself and others while operating a
motor vehicle. (Tr. 198).
regard to the medical records and other records in the
administrative transcript, the Court accepts the facts as
presented in the parties' respective statements of fact.
The Court will cite specific portions of the transcript as
necessary to address the parties' arguments.
Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act
defines as disabled a person who is unable “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); see also
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The
impairment must be “of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the
immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job
vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he
applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605,
611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At
Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
currently engaging in “substantial gainful
activity”; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At
Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has a severe impairment, which is “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the
claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find
the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with
the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines
whether the claimant can return to his 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); McCoy,
648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot,
the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step
Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national
economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other
work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g); McCoy,
648 F.3d at 611.
Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that
he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step
Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in
the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064
(8th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ's Decision
the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ here found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since October 1, 2012, the alleged onset date; that Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder and alcohol
dependence; and 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 C.F.R. §
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 37-38). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following RFC:
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: [Plaintiff] is limited
to work involving simple, routine tasks and simple
work-related decisions that is low stress work, defined as
work involving no interaction with the public, occasional
interaction with coworkers and supervisors, occasional
changes in work setting, and occasional decision making.
(Tr. 39). At Step Four, relying on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable
of performing her past relevant work as a housekeeper
(Dictionary of Occupational Titles No.
323.687-014). (Tr. 44). In the alternative, the ALJ found at
Step Five that there were other jobs existing in the national
economy that Plaintiff was able to perform. (Tr. 45). Again
relying on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could perform occupations such as
hotel maid (Dictionary of Occupational Titles No.
323.687-014). (Tr. 45). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had not been under a disability from October 1,
2012, through the date of his decision. (Tr. 45).
argues that the RFC finding is not supported by substantial
evidence and that the ALJ did not consider all of the
evidence as he was required to do under Eighth Circuit law,
the regulations, and the relevant Social Security rulings.
Plaintiff appears to argue that (1) the ALJ did not perform
an adequate analysis of Plaintiff's symptoms, as required
by Social Security Ruling 16-3p and 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c)(3); (2) the ALJ erred in his assessment of the
opinions of a consultative psychological examiner, Dr.
Lauretta Walker, Ph.D.; (3) the ALJ erred by relying on his
own inferences from the medical reports rather ...