United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
JENA L. LATTIMER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Jena L. Lattimer seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and a history of polysubstance abuse, but she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform past relevant work as a cleanup worker.
Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's opinion, the Commissioner's decision denying benefits is AFFIRMED.
Factual and Procedural Background
A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.
Plaintiff filed her SSI application on August 9, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2008. After the Commissioner denied her application, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On June 24, 2011, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled. On July 26, 2012, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. 1383(c).
Standard of Review
A federal court's review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.
In determining whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at Steps Three and Four. With respect to Step Three, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that she failed to meet the intellectual disability listing. As for Step Four, Plaintiff faults the ALJ for discounting the opinion of her treating psychiatrist Dr. James True, M.D. ("Dr. True"). Both arguments lack merit.
A. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's Step Three analysis.
Step Three requires an ALJ to analyze whether a claimant's severe impairments meet a disorder listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. p, app. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the ALJ answers in the affirmative, the claimant is deemed disabled and the sequential process ends. See id. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have determined that she met Listing 12.05C. This listing requires Plaintiff to demonstrate: "(1) a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70; (2) an onset of the impairment before age 22; and (3) a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation in functioning." Maresh v. Barnhart, 438 F.3d 897, 899 (8th Cir. 2006).
Here, the ALJ found Plaintiff failed to meet Listing 12.05C because "[t]he evidence does not establish that the claimant has objective medical findings that are commensurate with the criteria described in 12.05C, including no evidence of deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period." R. at 16. Later in her opinion, the ALJ expounded upon this finding by addressing the only intelligence quotient ("IQ") scores located in the record. Based upon a one-time consultative examination, Plaintiff's retained psychologist Dr. Franklin Boraks, Ph.D. ("Dr. Boraks") assessed Plaintiff with a verbal IQ score of 64, a performance IQ score of 62, and a ...