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DeGroot v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2019

CYNTHIA DEGROOT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Cynthia DeGroot 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 Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite DeGroot's severe impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work existing 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 affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         DeGroot filed her applications for DIB and SSI on August 10, 2011, claiming that she became unable to work on October 1, 2008.[1] (Tr. 126-32.) In her Disability Report, DeGroot alleged disability due to fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, joint disease, lower lumbar problems, hypertrophy, neck and back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, thyroiditis, GERD, ulcers, hiatal hernia, sliding hernia in throat, anxiety, hallucinations, and “other mental health issues.” (Tr. 160.) DeGroot was 40 years of age at the time of her alleged onset of disability. Her applications were denied initially. (Tr. 77.) Following an administrative hearing, DeGroot's claims were denied in a written opinion by an ALJ, dated April 18, 2013. (Tr. 9-20.)

         After the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied review, DeGroot filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. (Tr. 1149-69.) On September 28, 2015, the undersigned reversed and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings, including the consideration of DeGroot's thyroid disorder and tremors. (Tr. 1169.) On remand, a second ALJ held another hearing and considered additional medical evidence. (Tr. 1025-91.) On September 8, 2016, the ALJ denied DeGroot's claims in a written opinion. (Tr. 1028-47.) DeGroot then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, which was denied on October 3, 2017. (Tr. 982-90.) 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 this action, DeGroot first argues that the “hypothetical questions that properly evaluated the claimant's condition call for a finding of disabled.” (Doc. 12 at 3.) She next argues that the ALJ “failed to find that the claimant's headaches were a severe impairment.” Id. at 7. Finally, DeGroot argues that the ALJ “did not give the proper weight to tremors and headaches as required in the remand order.” Id. at 9.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first found that DeGroot met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2013. (Tr. 1031.) He found that DeGroot had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 10, 2009, the amended alleged onset date. Id. In addition, the ALJ concluded that DeGroot had the following severe impairments: obesity, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, disorder of the lumbar spine, anxiety/posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), depression, substance addiction disorder, a history of carpal tunnel syndrome, and a history of a thyroidectomy with post-surgery acquired hypothyroidism. Id. The ALJ found that DeGroot did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 1032.)

         As to DeGroot'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 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). She can lift 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can walk or stand for six hours out of an eight-hour workday, two hours at a time; can sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday, four hours at a time; can occasionally climb stairs, but never climb ropes, scaffolds, or ladders; can occasionally balance, stoop, and crouch; can never crawl; is limited to frequent reaching, handling, feeling, stoop, and crouch; can never crawl; is limited to frequent reaching, handling, feeling, and fingering; is limited to occasional overhead reaching and handling; must avoid prolonged exposure to temperature extremes, chemicals, dust, fumes, noxious odors, humidity, and vibrating machinery; should avoid unprotected heights and hazardous moving machinery; and is limited to simple, routine, repetitive work tasks with occasional interaction with co-workers and no interaction with the general public.

(Tr. 1035.)

         The ALJ found that DeGroot was unable to perform any past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as photocopy machine operator, shipping/receiving weigher, and folding machine operator. (Tr.1045-46.) The ALJ therefore concluded that DeGroot was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 10, 2009, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 1047.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits filed on August 10, 2011, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Based on the application for supplemental security income filed on August 10, 2011, 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 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 ...

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