United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
BARRY K. DALTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Income Insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff has exhausted his administrative remedies and the matter is now ripe for judicial review. This Court has carefully reviewed the record before it, and affirms the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") decision.
Plaintiff filed his applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II, and for SSI under Title XVI, on June 13, 2011. Plaintiff was born in 1960, and at the time of the alleged onset of disability was 48 years old. Plaintiff's work history was primarily as an electrostatic painter. Plaintiff alleges disability mainly due to lupus and heart problems. Plaintiff's disability report states his joints were sore, which made it difficult for him to get up and down and made him depressed. Plaintiff alleged he became disabled beginning in October 2008. However, he did not seek treatment for the alleged onset of disability until one year later in October 2009.
Plaintiff initially sought treatment in October 2009 at Truman Medical Center for back and leg pain and he complained that his "lupus [was] getting worse." In March 2011, Plaintiff again visited Truman Medical Center with complaints of joint pain, lower back pain, itching on his scalp due to discoid lupus and sporadic left-sided chest pain increasing over the past 3-4 months. At this time, over 2 years since Plaintiff alleges he became disabled, Plaintiff began further testing for lupus and a cardiology consultation was ordered. Plaintiff underwent a coronary angiogram in April 2011 and then graduated from cardiac rehabilitation in October 2011. The medical records indicate Plaintiff's echocardiogram was normal, he was able to exercise without chest discomfort or shortness of breath and was encouraged to continue exercising at home.
On July 25, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim after conducting a hearing on July 3, 2012. Plaintiff, and a vocational expert, testified at the hearing. The vocational expert testified an individual with plaintiff's vocational profile and residual functional capacity could perform Plaintiff's past work as an electrostatic painter and housekeeper. The vocational expert also testified such an individual could perform other available light unskilled jobs.
Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's determination. The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision by letter dated September 11, 2013 and denied Plaintiff's request for review. On appeal, Plaintiff submitted, for the first time, a Kansas City Missouri School District Transcript that contains a handwritten notation - "4/6/76 Stan. Binet 70." The Appeals Council's letter stated "in looking at your case, we considered your reasons you disagree with the decision and the additional evidence" submitted by Plaintiff.
Plaintiff's current appeal argues, among other things, that the Appeals Council failed to consider his new and material evidence, the school records indicating his IQ score of 70, and that the ALJ's determination is not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
The Court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is to determine whether the "findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1042-43 (8th Cir. 2007), citing Haggard v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir.1999). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "The fact that some evidence may support a conclusion opposite from that reached by the Commissioner does not alone permit our reversal of the Commissioner's decision." Id., citing Kelley v. Barnhart, 372 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir.2004); and Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007). If the record contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse the decision simply because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome. Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). In other words, the Court cannot reverse simply because it would have decided the case differently. Id., citing Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993). Further, the Court defers to the ALJ's determinations of the credibility of witness testimony, as long as the ALJ's determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial evidence. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006).
A. Plaintiff's Submission of New Evidence.
Plaintiff first argues the Appeals Council erred, as a matter of law, by failing to properly evaluate the new and allegedly material evidence he submitted after the ALJ's determination. On appeal, Plaintiff submitted, for the first time, a Kansas City Missouri School District Transcript containing a handwritten notation, "4/6/76 Stan. Binet 70." The Transcript further showed grades ranging from B-F. The Appeals Council acknowledged receipt of the additional evidence, but found that the new evidence did not provide a basis for further review of the ALJ's determination.
Here, the Court is presented with evidence submitted by Plaintiff after the ALJ issued his determination. When subsequent evidence is submitted, the court must determine whether the ALJ's decision "is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, including the new evidence submitted after the determination was made." See Riley v. Shalala, 18 F.3d 619, 622 (8th Cir. 1994). The 8th Circuit has stated "this requires this court to decide how the ALJ would have weighed the new evidence had it existed at the initial hearing. As we have oft noted, this [is] a peculiar task for a reviewing court.' Critically, however, this court may not reverse the decision of the ALJ merely because substantial evidence may allow for a contrary decision." Bergmann v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000),  citing Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993).
Plaintiff asserts the additional evidence of his transcript showing an IQ of 70 should have provided a basis for the Appeals Council to remand the case to the ALJ for further evaluation of Plaintiff's impairment at Step Three of the sequential evaluation process. Plaintiff further argues, in light of this evidence, the ...