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Paster v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

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



         This action is before the Court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Deborah R. Paster for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. The parties consented to the exercise of plenary authority by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Deborah R. Paster applied for Title II disability benefits on July 29, 2014, at the age of 54. (Tr. 177-83). Plaintiff alleges she was disabled on account of fatigue, headaches, and stress. (Tr. 25). Plaintiff’s application was initially denied in November 2014. (Tr. 79-83). She requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 84). The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert on March 24, 2017. (Tr. 43-70). After the hearing, the ALJ sent plaintiff for a consultative examination, which was conducted on May 5, 2017. (Tr. 585-600). On August 25, 2017, the ALJ decided that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 11-19). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1). The decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.


         The Court adopts the parties' several statements of uncontroverted material facts (Docs. 20, 25). These facts, taken together, present a fair and accurate summary of the medical record and testimony at the evidentiary hearing. The Court discusses specific facts as they are relevant to the parties’ arguments.


         To determine whether a claimant qualifies for Social Security disability benefits, the ALJ must conduct a five-step sequential evaluation.[2] See 20 CFR § 404.1520.

         The ALJ found that plaintiff would last meet the insured status required by Title II of the Act on December 31, 2017. At Step 1, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability, May 1, 2014. (Tr. 13). At Step 2, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairment of degenerative joint disease. (Id.). At Step 3, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14).

         Despite the limitations from plaintiff’s impairments, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in the regulations.[3] (Id.). In formulating her RFC assessment, the ALJ considered and discussed not only plaintiff’s severe impairment of degenerative joint disease, but also considered and discussed additional impairments and symptoms that she alleged were disabling. (Tr. 14-18). These impairments and related symptoms included stress, headaches/migraines, sleeping all day, hypertension, hypothyroidism, diabetes, sleep apnea, low back pain, hip pain, knee pain, chest pain, left arm pain, dizziness, and obesity. (Id.). The ALJ found that plaintiff’s allegations regarding her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record and found that she had failed to carry her burden to prove more restrictive functional limitations than those included in the ALJ's RFC assessment. (Tr. 18).

         Relying on the vocational expert’s testimony in response to a hypothetical question, the ALJ concluded at Step 4 that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a collections agent. (Tr. 19). Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled and did not proceed to Step 5 in the sequential evaluation.


         The Court’s role on judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings comply with the relevant legal requirements and 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 she is unable to perform any substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or could be expected to last for at least 12 continuous months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Pate-Fires, 564 F.3d at 942. A five-step regulatory framework, described in footnote 2 above, is used to determine ...

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