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McGee v. Colvin

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

January 5, 2015

JUDY M. McGEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Judy M. McGee 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 essential tremors, scoliosis, anxiety disorder, and depression, but retained the RFC to perform work as an officer helper, a shipping and receiving weigher, and a ticket printer and tagger.

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 Title II application on March 23, 2011, and her Title XVI application on March 31, 2011. Both applications alleged a disability onset date of December 10, 2008. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, so Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On January 25, 2013, the ALJ rendered a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, and on January 6, 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

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.[1]

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.


I. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC formulation.

Both of Plaintiff's arguments on appeal attack how the ALJ formulated Plaintiff's RFC. A claimant's RFC is the most she can still do despite her physical or mental limitations. Leckenby v. Astrue, 487 F.3d 626, 631 n.5 (8th Cir. 2007). In formulating a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must consider all the relevant, credible record evidence, including a claimant's medical records, observations from treating and examining physicians, and a claimant's subjective statements. See Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th Cir. 2007).

Here, the ALJ confined Plaintiff to light work with additional restrictions. R at 19. The ALJ limited Plaintiff to work that only occasionally required climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; never required climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; permitted alternating among sitting, standing, and walking every thirty minutes; and only involved incidental contact with the general public. R. at 19.

To reach this RFC, the ALJ exhaustively reviewed and analyzed the record evidence in her six-and-a-half-page opinion. Plaintiff, however, contends that in the process of doing so the ALJ (1) erroneously discounted her credibility, and (2) failed to ...

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