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Lauer v. Berryhill

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

March 25, 2019

JESSICA LAUER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jessica Lauer brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 and 1383 seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Because the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will affirm the decision.

         Procedural History

         On February 2, 2015, the Social Security Administration denied Lauer's July 2014 application for DIB and SSI, [2] in which she claimed she became disabled on December 20, 2010, because of her severe impairments that included bipolar disorder II, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and borderline personality traits. Lauer requested a hearing and the hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on November 7, 2016, at which Lauer and a vocational expert testified. On April 12, 2017, the ALJ denied Lauer's claims for benefits, finding the vocational expert's testimony to support a finding that Lauer could perform work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. On January 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Lauer's request for review of the ALJ's decision. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Lauer claims that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Specifically, she argues that the ALJ failed to consider properly the medical opinion evidence in determining her mental residual functional capacity and that the ALJ failed to consider the side effects from her prescribed medications. For the reasons that follow, the ALJ did not err in her determination.

         Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt Lauer's recitation of facts set forth in her Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF 21) and note that they are admitted in their entirety by the Commissioner (ECF 26-1). 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' arguments.

         Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB under the Social Security Act, Lauer 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The first three steps involve a determination as to whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; whether she has a severe impairment; and whether her severe impairment(s) meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. At Step 4 of the process, the ALJ must assess the claimant's RFC - that is, the most the claimant is able to do despite her physical and mental limitations, Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011) - and determine whether the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (RFC assessment occurs at fourth step of process). If the claimant is unable to perform her past work, the Commissioner continues to Step 5 and determines whether the claimant can perform other work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. If so, the claimant is found not to be disabled, and disability benefits are denied.

         The claimant bears the burden through Step 4 of the analysis. If she meets this burden and shows that she is unable to perform her past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step 5 to produce evidence demonstrating that the claimant has the RFC to perform other jobs in the national economy that exist in significant numbers and are consistent with her impairments and vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012). If the claimant has non-exertional impairments, such as pain or postural limitations, the Commissioner may satisfy her burden at Step 5 through the testimony of a vocational expert. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1219.

         I 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); Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Jones, 619 F.3d at 968. Determining whether there is substantial evidence requires scrutinizing analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007).

         I 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, I must affirm the Commissioner's decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). I may not reverse the Commissioner's decision merely because substantial evidence could also support a contrary outcome. McNamara, 590 F.3d ...


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