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Rouse v. Berryhill

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

March 26, 2019

REBECCA JANE ROUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID D. NOCE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action is before the Court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Rebecca Jane Rouse for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Rebecca Jane Rouse, who was born on October 27, 1959, filed her application for disability insurance benefits on December 27, 2010. (Tr. 168-69.) She alleged a disability onset date of February 1, 2005, later amended to October 27, 2009 (Tr. 181), due to depression, neuropathy, post-surgery neck numbness, insulin-dependent diabetes, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 186.) Her application was initially approved by an agency attorney advisor on September 8, 2011 (Tr. 86-94), but on April 24, 2012, the Appeals Council vacated the order approving benefits and remanded for further proceedings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 99-103.)

         Plaintiff appeared before an ALJ. (Tr. 36-68.) On July 23, 2013, following the hearing, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application. (Tr. 10-30.) On January 7, 2015, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-4.)

         Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Rouse v. Colvin, No. 4:15 CV 466 CEJ, 2016 WL 866087 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 7, 2016). On March 7, 2016, this Court reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further evaluation. Id. at 24. On August 1, 2017, following a second hearing, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and denied her application for disability benefits. (Tr. 758-84.) The Appeals Council did not review the new ALJ decision and it became the final decision of the Commissioner now before this Court for review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d).

         II.

         III. MEDICAL HISTORY

         The Court adopts the parties' several statements of uncontroverted material facts (Docs. 19, 24.) These facts, taken together, present a fair and accurate summary of the medical record and testimony at the evidentiary hearing. The Court discusses specific facts as they are relevant to the parties' arguments.

         IV. DECISION OF THE ALJ

         On August 1, 2017, following a remand by this Court, a second ALJ issued the decision now before the Court. At Step One, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged disability onset date of October 27, 2009, through her date she was last insured on December 31, 2011. (Tr. 758-91.) At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, status post cervical degenerative disc disease and fusion, status post carpal tunnel surgery, depression, and anxiety. At Step Three, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no impairments or combination of impairments that met or was the medical equivalent of an impairment on the Commissioner's list of presumptively disabling impairments. (Tr. 764-68); see also 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

         The ALJ then found that plaintiff:

had the residual functional capacity [(RFC)] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she can sit for four hours at a time up to eight hours in an eight-hour workday; can stand and/or walk for one hour at a time up to three hours in an eight-hour workday; can occasionally reach overhead with both upper extremities; can frequently reach in all other directions; can frequently handle, finger, feel, push, and pull; can frequently operate foot controls with both lower extremities; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can frequently balance; can occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch, but never crawl; cannot be exposed to unprotected heights; can be occasionally exposed to moving mechanical parts and extreme cold; can be frequently exposed to humidity and wetness, dust, odors, fumes, and other pulmonary irritants; can be frequently exposed to extreme heat and vibration; and can frequently operate a motor vehicle. Finally plaintiff is limited to unskilled work (simple, routine, and repetitive tasks).

(Tr. 768.)

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 782.) At Step Five, the ALJ found that plaintiff was capable of performing jobs existing in ...


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