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Thompson v. Saul

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

July 30, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. August 2014 to November 2014 (3 months) December 2015 to March 2016 (3 months)


          David D. Noce, J.

         This action is before the Court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff Michelle Thompson is not disabled and, thus, not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. 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 was born on February 28, 1971. (Tr. 127). She filed her application for DIB on January 15, 2015, alleging an onset date of June 18, 2014. (Tr. 127). In her application, plaintiff claimed that she suffers numbness in her hands and feet, numbness in her stomach, weakness on the left side of her body, diabetes, and blood pressure issues. (Tr. 150). Her date last insured was December 31, 2018. (Tr. 147). On March 3, 2015, plaintiff's application was denied, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 65, 71). Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing on January 24, 2017. (Tr. 35-51). By decision dated April 5, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 15-23). The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work. Id.

         On January 25, 2018, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner to be reviewed in this case. (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to consider or improperly analyzing plaintiff's ability to regularly attend a workplace. (Doc. 17). Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed and remanded for further evaluation.

         A. Medical Record and Evidentiary Hearing

          The Court adopts plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 17, Ex. 1) as clarified by defendant's response (Doc. 22, Ex. 1) in addition to defendant's Statement of Additional Facts (Doc. 22, Ex. 2), as clarified by plaintiff's response (Doc. 23, Ex. 1). Together, these facts represent a fair and accurate summary of the medical record and testimony as given at the evidentiary hearing. The court will discuss relevant facts as necessary to address the parties' arguments.

         B. ALJ's Decision

         At Step One, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date, June 18, 2014. (Tr. 17). She also found that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus with neuropathy and gastroparesis, hypertension, obesity, coronary artery disease, and history of cerebrovascular accident. (Tr. 17). However, the ALJ concluded that none of these impairments, individually or in combination, met or equaled an impairment listed in the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. 17-18).

         The ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments left her with the RFC to “perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a)”:

She is able to lift, carry, push, or pull 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, but for no more than 30 minutes at a time. She can never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, but occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel crouch, and crawl. She must have no exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, humidity, wetness, vibration, unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, dust, fumes, odors, gases, and poor ventilation.

(Tr. 18). In making this determination, the ALJ considered the objective medical evidence in the record, opinion evidence, and plaintiff's allegations and testimony. (Tr. 17-22).

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had some medical problems, but none that caused her to be completely disabled. She noted plaintiff had severe diabetic gastroparesis in August 2014, November 2014, late 2015, and early 2016, but that she was stable between those hospitalizations and had not had a hospitalization between March 2016 and April 2017. The ALJ further noted that when plaintiff is compliant with her diabetes treatment plan, hospitalizations should not be necessary, and that even with her historical hospitalizations, she would not have missed two or more days a month due to the gastroparesis. Additionally, the ALJ found that there was no objective medical evidence in the record that she had experienced a stroke, other than plaintiff's report of that in her history. The ALJ noted that there was little other evidence in the record to support any weakness in her left side and that, on the contrary, she could perform sedentary work after her alleged stroke. However, the ALJ found that plaintiff's obesity and diabetic neuropathy do affect her lower extremities and limit her ability to do sedentary work, though she retains the use of her hands.

         In terms of opinion evidence, the ALJ discounted the opinion of plaintiff's primary care doctor, Edwin Schmidt, M.D. Dr. Schmidt opined that plaintiff would miss work more than three times a month because of her gastroparesis. However, the ALJ found this opinion was not supported by Dr. Schmidt's own records, nor the record as a whole. Based on the testimony of a VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work of an insurance clerk or hospital admitting clerk. (Tr. 17-23).

         II. ...

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