United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Carisa Lynette Brown seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including bursitis, arthralgia,  epicondylitis,  chronic back pain, depression, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and obesity, but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a final assembler and as a table worker.
Because the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Procedural and Factual Background
A complete summary of the record is presented in the parties' briefs and repeated here only to the extent necessary. Plaintiff filed the pending applications on October 19, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of September 23, 2010. After the Commissioner denied her application, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On May 3, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 22, 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'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.
The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine 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 at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Kemp ex rel. Kemp v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 630, 632 n.1 (8th Cir. 2014) (describing the five-step process).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed errors affecting multiple steps in the disability determination process. Specifically, Plaintiff moves the Court to reverse and remand to the Commissioner because the ALJ: (1) discredited evidence from Plaintiff and her doctor; (2) formulated an incorrect RFC; and (3) did not consider the effects of Plaintiff's obesity on her impairments. Each argument lacks merit.
I. The ALJ properly evaluated the record evidence to determine Plaintiff's impairments.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in her treatment of evidence offered by Plaintiff and by Donald McGehee, Ed.D. ("Dr. McGehee").
A. The ALJ permissibly found Plaintiff to be not credible.
Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ erred in disbelieving her testimony as it related to the severity of her impairments. Physically, she claimed that she experiences extreme pain in her arms, back, and knee, and that the pain sometimes inhibits her from leaving her bed. R. at 205-14. Mentally, she claimed that she isolates herself from people, cannot sleep, forgets what she is doing, has trouble focusing and concentrating, angers frequently, and thinks of killing people. R. at 81-83. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's "statements concerning the intensity, persistence and ...