United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS
ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.
Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for disability and supplemental security income benefits. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff was born in May 1974, completed some high school, and has prior work experience as a communications installer, general laborer, lawn care worker, painter, server and bartender. He alleges he became disabled on March 27, 2011, due to residual effects of bacterial meningitis with infection, residual effects of stroke, degenerative disease of the right knee, congenital thoracic scoliosis, the residual effects of methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:
[P]erform light work... except he is able to lift and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; he is able to sit for about six hours of an eight hour workday; he is able to stand and/or walk for about six hours of an eight hour workday; he is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he must take seizure precautions(he should not work at heights, operate heavy machinery, or be employed in any capacity in which a brief lapse of consciousness could cause harm to himself or to others); and, he is limited to simple, repetitive tasks. R. at 18.
Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work but could work as a pattern marker, core extruder and assembler. R. at 23.
In this proceeding, Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed two errors. First, he alleges the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the opinion offered by Dr. Michael Whetstone, Mr. Hoke's psychologist. Second, he contends the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence in the Record as a whole because the ALJ did not base the RFC on any medical evidence and failed to explain what evidence supported the RFC.
"[R]eview of the Secretary's decision [is limited] to a determination whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is evidence when reasonable minds would accept as adequate to support the Secretary's conclusion. [The Court] will not reverse a decision simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion." Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Forsythe v. Sullivan, 926 F.2d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Hutsell v. Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir. 1989)). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010). Even if the Court would have concluded differently had it independently evaluated the evidence (which may or may not be true in this case), the Court cannot reverse on this basis. E.g., Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir 2011).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to accord sufficient weight to Dr. Whetstone's opinion. Generally speaking, a treating source's opinion is entitled to deference. This general rule is not ironclad; a treating source's opinion may be disregarded if it is unsupported by clinical or other data or is contrary to the weight of the remaining evidence in the record. E.g., Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793-94 (8th Cir. 2012); Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929-30 (8th Cir. 2010); Pena v. Chater, 76 F.3d 906, 908 (8th Cir. 1996).
Substantial evidence exists that Whetstone's treatment notes are inconsistent with his Medical Source Statement - Mental ("MSSM"). The treatment notes appear to focus primarily on matters such as parenting issues, relationship issues, and Plaintiff's completion of his GED. R. at 539, 540, 542. The treatment notes do not appear to focus on matters in the MSSM such as Plaintiff's understanding, memory or concentration.
Plaintiff contends Whetstone's July 2011 neuropsychological testing supports his MSSM. Plaintiff notes the ALJ did not address Whetstone's neuropsychological evaluation. However, the fact remains that substantial evidence exists that Whetstone's treatment notes do not support the MSSM. Even if Whetstone's neuropsychological testing supports his MSSM, Whetstone's treatment notes provide substantial evidence ...