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Lattimore v. Saul

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

August 13, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff for disability insurance benefits under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and denial of supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the transcript and medical evidence. Based on the following, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         Plaintiff was 38 years old at the time of her alleged disability onset. She filed her application on April 7, 2015, alleging a January 1, 2004 onset date, and alleging disability due to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, a back problem and hot flashes. Plaintiff had previously filed applications which were denied, therefore, Plaintiff's earliest onset date Plaintiff could claim was no earlier than November 14, 2013. Plaintiff first became insured for Title II purposes on October 1, 2014. Plaintiff's current application was denied, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

         On May 2, 2017, a hearing was held. Following the hearing, an ALJ issued a decision on September 12, 2017 finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order and on June 22, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Decision of the ALJ

         On September 12, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled. At Step One, the ALJ found that plaintiff had performed substantial gainful activity during the calendar year of 2015, however there had been a continuous period of at least 12 months during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity. At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease and asthma. However, the ALJ found plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1.

         The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of light work with limitations. She could lift, carry, push, or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and can stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. Plaintiff can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She can have no exposure to unprotected heights or hazardous machinery, but can have occasional exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, and respiratory irritants such as dust, fumes, odors, gases, and poor ventilation.

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work as a janitor. At Step Five, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as a merchandise marker, an electrical assembler, and a routing clerk. Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         General Legal Principles

         The Court's role on judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings apply the relevant legal standards to facts that are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Id. In determining whether the evidence is substantial, the Court considers evidence that both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id. As long as substantial evidence supports the decision, the Court may not reverse it merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. See Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002).

         To be entitled to disability benefits, a claimant must prove he is unable to perform any substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that would either result in death or which has lasted or could be expected to last for at least twelve continuous months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(D), (d)(1)(A); Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (describing five-step process).

         Steps One through Three require the claimant to prove: (1) he is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) he suffers from a severe impairment; and (3) his condition meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iii). If the claimant does not suffer from a listed impairment or its equivalent, the Commissioner's analysis proceeds to Steps Four and Five. Step Four requires the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant retains the RFC to perform past relevant work (PRW). Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating he is no longer able to return to his PRW. Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. If the Commissioner determines the claimant cannot return to his PRW, the burden ...

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