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Gillespie v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

November 12, 2014

COURTNEY GILLESPIE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

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 her application for disability benefits. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff was born in November 1970, completed high school and has prior work experience as a partsmaker and automobile assembly-line worker. She initially alleged she became disabled on February 13, 2008, but amended her alleged onset date to January 1, 2011. R. at 32-33. The ALJ determined Plaintiff's severe impairments included degenerative lumbar disc disease, status post laminectomy with radiculopathy, sacroiliitis, fibromyalgia and labral tear of the left hip. The ALJ found Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:

[P]erform light work...in that she can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk 6 hours total during an 8-hour workday; and sit 6 hours total during an 8-hour workday. However, she would need the opportunity to alternate sitting/standing every 30 minutes. She can occasionally climb ramps/stairs but never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally stoop but never balance, kneel, crouch or crawl. She should avoid exposure to extreme cold and wetness. The claimant should also avoid work at unprotected heights. R. at 18.

Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work but could work as an electronic assembler, mail router and price marker. R. at 22.

II. DISCUSSION

In this proceeding, Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed three errors. First, she alleges the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the opinion offered by Dr. Douglas McCune. Second, she contends the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence in the Record as a whole because the ALJ based the RFC on Dr. Q. Michael Ditmore's opinion. Third, she alleges the ALJ failed to do a proper credibility analysis.

"[R]eview of the Secretary's decision [is limited] to a determination hether 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).

A.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to accord sufficient weight to Dr. McCune'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).

At issue are two Medical Assessments of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities forms which Dr. McCune completed - one in October 2011 and one in February 2012. Plaintiff appears to maintain the only reason the ALJ discounted Dr. McCune's opinions was because they were checkbox forms. Pl. Br. At 11-12.

As an initial matter, checkbox forms generally have little evidentiary value when they provide "little to no elaboration." Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 794 (8th Cir. 2012). Here Dr. McCune did provide some notes in his two forms. R. at 319-23, 342-46. However, as the ALJ stated, the forms did not provide "any significant rational[e]." R. at 21.

Further, the ALJ did not discount Dr. McCune's opinions only because they were checkbox forms. Instead, the ALJ provided two additional reasons for discounting Dr. McCune's opinions. Plaintiff ...


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