United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Pamela Webb seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her applications for 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 suffered from several severe impairments, including mild degenerative disk disease and scoliosis of the lumbar spine, asthma, and fibromyalgia, but retained the RFC to perform her past relevant work as a telephone solicitor.
Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination, the Commissioner's decision denying benefits is AFFIRMED.
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 her disability applications on April 5, 2012, alleging an onset date of August 16, 2011. The Commissioner denied her applications, and Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing with an ALJ. On July 9, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, and on January 28, 2014, it denied Plaintiff's request, 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), 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 attacks the ALJ's Step Four determination in two respects. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating her credibility. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion evidence, thus resulting in a RFC unsupported by substantial evidence. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
A. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility determination.
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ improperly discounted her subjective complaints of pain by ignoring credibility factors that weighed in her favor. The Court finds this argument to be without merit.
The ALJ's evaluation of a claimant's credibility is crucial to the RFC determination because it influences the inclusion or exclusion of alleged limitations. Tellez v. Barnhart, 403 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2005). Thus, the credibility inquiry is often the threshold step in the ALJ's RFC determination. Id. In analyzing a claimant's subjective complaints of pain, the ALJ considers the entire record, including medical records; statements from the claimant and third parties; the claimant's daily activities; the duration, frequency and intensity of pain; the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication; precipitating and aggravating factors; and functional restrictions. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529, 416.929; Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). When the ALJ articulates the inconsistencies that ...