United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
This action seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (the "Commissioner") decision denying Plaintiff Henry Wright, Jr.'s applications for Social Security disability insurance benefits 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 anxiety disorder and schizoaffective disorder, but he retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a small parts assembler, an electrical accessories assembler, and a housekeeper. Plaintiff challenges this determination.
Because substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ's opinion, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.
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 his applications on September 13, 2007, alleging a disability onset date of March 31, 2004. The Commissioner denied his applications, an administrative law judge subsequently affirmed the denial, and the Appeals Council denied review. Plaintiff appealed to the district court, and on May 23, 2011 it reversed and remanded the case pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), directing the ALJ to further evaluate Plaintiff's RFC and to obtain testimony from a vocational expert concerning whether he could perform work given his RFC.
On May 9, 2012, the ALJ conducted a hearing, and issued a decision affirming the denial of benefits on June 27, 2012. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council. After considering further evidence from Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist Dr. Sosunmolu Shoyinka, M.D. ("Dr. Shoyinka"), the Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ's determination 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), 1383(c)(3).
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 posits two related RFC arguments. First, he contends the ALJ erred in formulating his RFC by improperly weighing the opinion evidence. Second, he argues that when the court reweighs the evidence before the ALJ with the new evidence presented for the first time to the Appeals Council, the ALJ's RFC formulation is unsupported by the record evidence. Each argument lacks merit.
A. The ALJ did not err in weighing the opinion evidence.
Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion evidence about his mental impairments and limitations. In particular, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erroneously discounted the opinions of his treating psychiatrists and psychologists Dr. Kristin Parkinson, M.D. ("Dr. Parkinson"), Dr. Danielle Bradhsaw, D.O. ("Dr. Bradshaw"), and Dr. Shoyinka. According to Plaintiff, the ALJ compounded this misstep by elevating the opinions of non-examining psychiatrist Dr. Glen Frisch, M.D. ...