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Rose v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

TAMRA L. ROSE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Tamra L. Rose’s appeal regarding the denial of supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 8.] 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.

         Issue for Review

         Rose presents one issue for review. She asserts that the residual functional capacity determination (“RFC”) and the vocational expert testimony based on the RFC are not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner asserts that the administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(1)(A).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ’s decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner’s finding, the Commissioner’s decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner’s decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003). “In this substantial-evidence determination, the entire administrative record is considered but the evidence is not reweighed.” Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d. 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012).

         Discussion

         Rose contends that the ALJ’s RFC should have included marked limitations in interacting appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers and responding to routine changes in a work setting as set forth in Dr. Thomas Spencer’s psychological evaluation.

         The RFC is a function-by-function assessment of an individual’s ability to do sustained work-related physical and mental activities on a regular and continuing basis.[2] SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (July 2, 1996). It is the administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) responsibility to determine the claimant’s RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and the claimant’s own descriptions of his limitations. Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1217. “It is the claimant’s burden, and not the Social Security Commissioner’s burden, to prove the claimant’s RFC.” Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2003). An RFC determination made by an ALJ will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Cox, 471 F.3d at 907. “Because a claimant’s RFC is a medical question, an ALJ’s assessment of it must be supported by some medical evidence of the claimant’s ability to function in the workplace.” Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016). There is no requirement, however, that an RFC finding be supported by a specific medical opinion. Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932 (RFC affirmed without medical opinion evidence); Myers v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 521, 527 (8th Cir. 2013) (same); Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092-93 (8th Cir. 2012) (same).

         In this case, the ALJ found that Rose had the severe impairments of unspecified mood disorder, social anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder in sustained remission. (Tr. 12.) The ALJ determined that Rose had the RFC to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels with the following limitations: (1) simple, routine, repetitive tasks; (2) no fast-paced production environments; (3) no contact with the general public; and (4) occasional, superficial interaction with coworkers and supervisors, that do not require working in teams or in collaboration. (Tr. 14.)

         Dr. Spencer conducted a psychological evaluation of Rose on October 20, 2016 as a consultative psychological examiner for the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 643-51.) During the mental status examination, Dr. Spencer observed that Rose’s motor behavior was within normal limits, she cooperated with the examiner, and was a decent historian. She presented with a depressed mood and restricted affect. She was alert and oriented to person, time, place, and event. Although Dr. Spencer described her insight and judgment as questionable, her flow of thought was intact and she did not appear paranoid or grandiose. He determined that she had unspecified mood disorder, social anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder in sustained remission. (Tr. 645.)

         Dr. Spencer opined that Rose had a mild impairment in understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions. (Tr. 647.) He found that she had moderate limitation in ability to make judgments on simple work related decisions. He opined that she had marked limitations in understanding, remembering, and carrying out complex instructions and making judgments on complex work-related decisions. He also opined that she had marked limitations in interacting appropriately with the public, supervisors, and co-workers and responding appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 648.). Dr. Spencer opined Rose had a global assessment functioning (“GAF”) score range of 55-60.[3] On the GAF scale, a score from 51 to 60 represents moderate symptoms ( e.g., flat affect and circumstantial speech, occasional panic attacks) or ...


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