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Petris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 29, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her application for supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination of whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).


         Plaintiff was born in 1966, has a sixth-grade education, and has not worked in any capacity since at least 2002. R. at 14, 22, 36, 51-53, 166, 178. On July 27, 2012, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2011. Her application was denied, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). After a hearing, ALJ Sheila Walters concluded Plaintiff was not disabled as of January 14, 2014. R. at 81-96. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her appeal in April 2014. R. at 101-06. Plaintiff appealed to this Court, and the Honorable Brian C. Wimes affirmed the Commissioner's decision in November 2016. Petris v. Colvin, No. 4:15-CV-381-BCW (Doc. #23). Plaintiff appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed Judge Wimes's decision in January 2018. Petris v. Berryhill, 709 Fed.Appx. 399 (8th Cir. 2018).

         On April 30, 2015, [1] Plaintiff again applied for supplemental security income, alleging the same disability onset date. R. at 11, 166-71. Her application was denied, and she requested a hearing, which was held in March 2017. R. at 33-77, 121-24, 164-65. In August 2017, ALJ Mark A. Clayton issued his decision, finding Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments since April 1, 2011: torn meniscus in the left knee, degenerative joint disease of the right knee with a total knee arthroplasty, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, non-displaced sacral fracture, obesity, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. R. at 11-24. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant needs to avoid even moderate exposure to hazards, extreme cold temperatures, and vibrations. She can occasionally push, pull, and operate foot pedals with the lower extremities. The claimant needs to work in an environment allowing brief positional changes every 30 minutes, which can be done without leaving the workstation, as well as in an environment requiring only rudimentary reading and writing. The claimant can do simple, routine, repetitive type tasks involving only simple work-related decision making. She needs to work in an environment with no more than occasional change in the routine work setting without emphasis on fast-paced production, that is, where speed would be an essential element of the job. The claimant can have occasional interaction with others, that is, with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public.

R. at 16.

         Based upon the record, the RFC, Plaintiff's testimony, and the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ concluded that prior to February 14, 2016, Plaintiff, who was then a “younger individual” (forty-five to forty-nine years old), could have worked as a table worker or final assembler; and therefore, she was not disabled. R. at 22-23. On February 14, 2016, Plaintiff turned fifty, and her age category changed. Id. When considering Plaintiff's new age category, along with her education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined no job existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. Id. He concluded Plaintiff became disabled on February 14, 2016. Id. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her appeal. R. at 1-3. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.


         [2]Plaintiff presents two arguments, which both pertain to the RFC. One's RFC is the “most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). “A disability claimant has the burden to establish her RFC.” Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). If a claimant establishes she is unable to do past relevant work, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner who must prove (1) the claimant retains the RFC to do other kinds of work, and (2) other work the claimant is able to perform exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Id. (citations omitted). When the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner, “the burden of persuasion to prove disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant….” Id.

         The ALJ must base the RFC on “all of the relevant evidence, including the medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual's own description of his limitations.” McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(32) (noting the ALJ, when assessing a claimant's RFC, will consider “relevant medical and other evidence, ” “statements about what [the claimant] can still do that have been provided by medical sources..., ” and “descriptions and observations of [the claimant's] limitations from [his/her] impairments… including limitations that result from [the claimant's] symptoms…provided by [the claimant], [the claimant's] family, neighbors, friends, or other persons.”). Because the RFC is a medical question, “an ALJ's assessment of it must be supported by some medical evidence of [the plaintiff's] ability to function in the workplace.” Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). But “there is no requirement that an RFC finding be supported by a specific medical opinion.” Id. (citations omitted).

         A. ...

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