United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
TROY A. SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GRED KAYS, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Troy A. Smith seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff suffered from a severe mental impairment variously diagnosed as bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he retained the RFC to perform work as a mail clerk, merchandise marker, and garment sorter.
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 his initial application on October 28, 2008, which was subsequently denied on February 6, 2009. Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On August 19, 2010, ALJ Patricia Hartman then conducted a hearing and affirmed the Commissioner's denial. Plaintiff then sought review of this decision from the Appeals Council, which granted review and remanded on May 2, 2012. Upon remand, ALJ Debra Van Vleck conducted a second hearing and then rendered an opinion finding Plaintiff not disabled. Plaintiff again sought review from the Appeals Council, but it denied his request on December 16, 2013. This denial left the ALJ's opinion 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).
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.
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 raises a two-pronged challenge to the ALJ's Step Four determination. First, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erroneously discounted his credibility. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion evidence. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
I. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility determination.
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ improperly discounted his subjective complaints by ignoring facts that bolstered his credibility and disproportionately focusing on facts that detracted from his credibility. The Court finds this argument to be without merit.
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; Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). When the ALJ articulates the inconsistencies that undermine the claimant's subjective complaints and those inconsistencies ...