United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Joseph William Newell seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et. seq., and supplemental security income ("SSI") based on disability under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et. seq. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff suffered from multiple severe impairments but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a racker, merchandise marker, or routing clerk, thus he was not disabled as defined in the Act.
After careful review, the Court holds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Factual and Procedural Background
The medical record is summarized in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.
Plaintiff filed his application for disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits on December 8, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of December 31, 2008. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing and on March 29, 2012, issued his decision holding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 28, 2013, 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. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Standard of Review
A federal court's review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny disability and SSI 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 contends the ALJ erred at step four because the ALJ's RFC determination and credibility determination are not supported by substantial evidence on the record. Plaintiff also asserts the ALJ erred at step five in finding that other work exists in the national economy which he could perform. The Court finds no merit to these claims.
A. The ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ found Plaintiff possessed the RFC to perform light work with no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; he could not work in a job that required communication with others; and he could not work at unprotected heights, with dangerous machinery, or with vibrating tools. The ALJ also restricted Plaintiff to goal-oriented work with simple work-related decisions, few changes in the work setting, and only occasional interaction with others. R. at 18.
Plaintiff argues this determination is not supported by substantial evidence because: (1) the medical opinion evidence in the record does not support this conclusion; (2) the ALJ should have ordered a consultative medical examination; (3) the ALJ gave too much weight to the opinion of a non-examining, non-treating psychologist, Dr. Keith Allen, Ph.D., and then failed embrace all of his opinion; (4) the ALJ ignored a third-party statement from S. Leon,  Defendant's employee, and wrongfully rejected a third-party statement from Tabitha Corrice, Plaintiff's friend; and (5) the ALJ should have given more weight to examining psychologist Dr. Holly Chatain's, Psy.D., opinion.
First, although medical opinion evidence is a part of what the ALJ considers in formulating a claimant's RFC, the ALJ has a duty to formulate the RFC based on all of the relevant, credible evidence of record. In formulating a claimant's RFC, the ALJ is not limited to looking at the medical evidence, much less only medical opinion evidence. Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th Cir. 2007); Dykes v. Apfel , 223 F.3d 865, 866 (8th Cir. 2000) (per curiam) ("To the extent [claimant] is arguing that residual functional capacity may be proved only by medical evidence, we disagree."). And to the extent Plaintiff is arguing that the RFC is not ...