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Hallowell-Petrich v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

December 2, 2019

JILL R. HALLOWELL-PETRICH, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination of whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1967 and has a bachelor's degree in management. R. at 44, 179, 182, 502, 504, 584. She previously worked as a real estate agent, administrative manager, and sales promotion representative. R. at 90-94, 584. In October 2012, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2002. R. at 502-03. In May 2013, she applied for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 2012. R. at 504-10. Plaintiff later amended her disability onset date to May 8, 2014. R. at 12, 42, 183, 234. In January 2013, Plaintiff's applications were denied. R. at 230, 288-92. She requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. 293-94.

         A hearing was held in February 2015. R. at 174-207. In May 2015, ALJ Janice E. Barnes-Williams issued a decision, finding Plaintiff is not disabled. R. at 234-44. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision (pursuant to the new and material evidence provision of the Social Security Administration's regulations) and remanded the matter. R. at 253-54.

         In September 2016, another hearing was held. R. at 104-73. In January 2017, ALJ Stephan Bell issued his decision, finding Plaintiff is not disabled. R. at 260-73. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Counsel vacated the ALJ's decision because the ALJ did not grant Plaintiff's request for a supplemental hearing, and the Appeals Council remanded the matter again. R. at 285-86.

         In March 2018, yet another hearing was held. R. at 38-103. In May 2018 ALJ Bell issued his decision, finding Plaintiff is not disabled. R. at 12-26. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease (lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine), facet osteoarthritis, right shoulder AC joint arthrosis, sacroiliitis, mild right ankle osteoarthritis and tenosynovitis status post surgeries, migraines, neuropathy, and obesity.” R. at 15. The ALJ determined Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can frequently climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, and stairs, as well as frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can frequently reach overhead and in all other directions and frequently finger and handle with the left and right upper extremities. She can frequently work at unprotected heights and around moving mechanical parts, frequently operate a motor vehicle as a job duty, and frequently work in humidity and wetness, dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants, extreme cold, extreme heat, and vibration.

R. at 18. Based on the RFC and the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony at the hearing, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff can perform past relevant work as a sales promotion representative, real estate agent, and administrative manager. R. at 25-26. Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the Appeals Council. R. at 1-3. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues this matter must be reversed because the ALJ failed to (a) properly determine her RFC, and (b) ...


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