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Turner v. Saul

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

September 9, 2019

KIMBERLY TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kimberly Turner brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.

         An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that, despite Turner's severe impairments, she was not disabled as she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

         This matter is pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Turner filed her application for benefits on May 4, 2015, claiming that she became unable to work on May 3, 2015. (Tr. 163-64.) In her Disability Report, Turner alleged disability due to back pain, osteoarthritis, depression, chronic pain, bone spurs in the knees and left ankle, left hip pain, screws in the right big toe, rotator cuff shoulder pain, anxiety, and difficulty sitting or standing for long periods. (Tr. 196.) Turner was 45 years of age at her alleged onset of disability. (Tr. 33.) Her application was denied initially. (Tr. 87-92.) Turner's claim was denied by an ALJ on November 21, 2017. (Tr. 11-35.) On May 29, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Turner's claim for review. (Tr. 1-3.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         In this action, Turner argues that the ALJ “improperly weighed the opinions of Plaintiff's treating team, Nurse Murd[i]ck and the state agency psychological consultant, Dr. Akeson.” (Doc. 19 at 3.) She also argues that the ALJ erred “by drawing h[er] own inferences from medical reports.” Id. at 5.

         II. The ALJ's Determination

         The ALJ first found that Turner meets the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2019. (Tr. 16.) She next found that Turner has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 3, 2015, the alleged onset of disability date. Id. In addition, the ALJ concluded that Turner had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, with mild scoliosis; degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, bilateral knees, and bilateral feet; major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; panic disorder; and chronic pain syndrome. (Tr. 17.) The ALJ found that Turner did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 19.)

         As to Turner's RFC, the ALJ stated:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), with the following additional limitations: she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can have no exposure to unprotected heights or hazardous machinery; can perform only occasional overhead reaching with the right upper extremity; is able to perform simple to moderately complex tasks, but can have only minimal changes in job settings and duties; can perform no fast-paced production work; can have no contact with the general public; and can have only occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.

(Tr. 22.)

         The ALJ found that Turner was unable to perform any past relevant work, but was capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as cleaner/housekeeper, mail clerk, and routing clerk. (Tr. 33-34.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Turner was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 3, 2015, through the date of this decision. (Tr. 34.)

         The ALJ's final decision reads as follows:

Based on the application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits filed on May 3, 2015, the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.

(Tr. 35.)

         III. Applicable Law

         III.A. Standard of Review

          The decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed 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); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.” Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . . requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         To determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Court must review ...


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