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Wolters v. Colvin

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

January 30, 2015

AMANDA WOLTERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROBERT E. LARSEN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Amanda Wolters seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in (1) failing to find that plaintiff's mental impairments do not meet the requirements of List 12.04 - Affective Disorders, and (2) failing to afford controlling weight to the treatment medical sources of record. I find that the substantial evidence in the record as a whole does not support the ALJ's decision. Therefore, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be granted and the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 7, 2011, plaintiff applied for disability benefits alleging that she had been disabled since September 1, 1986, amended to August 31, 2008. Plaintiff's disability stems from bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, morbid obesity, and sleep apnea. Plaintiff's application was denied on May 20, 2011. On July 19, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge. On September 7, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined in the Act. On October 18, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. STANDARD FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

Section 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provides for judicial review of a "final decision" of the Commissioner. The standard for judicial review by the federal district court is whether the decision of the Commissioner was supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 847, 850-51 (8th Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Chater, 108 F.3d 178, 179 (8th Cir. 1997); Andler v. Chater, 100 F.3d 1389, 1392 (8th Cir. 1996). The determination of whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence requires review of the entire record, considering the evidence in support of and in opposition to the Commissioner's decision. Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951); Thomas v. Sullivan, 876 F.2d 666, 669 (8th Cir. 1989). "The Court must also take into consideration the weight of the evidence in the record and apply a balancing test to evidence which is contradictory." Wilcutts v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Steadman v. Securities & Exchange Commission, 450 U.S. 91, 99 (1981)).

Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. at 401; Jernigan v. Sullivan, 948 F.2d 1070, 1073 n. 5 (8th Cir. 1991). However, the substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of choice within which the decision makers can go either way, without interference by the courts. "[A]n administrative decision is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision." Id .; Clarke v. Bowen, 843 F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988).

III. BURDEN OF PROOF AND SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

An individual claiming disability benefits has the burden of proving he is unable to return to past relevant work by reason of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). If the plaintiff establishes that he is unable to return to past relevant work because of the disability, the burden of persuasion shifts to the Commissioner to establish that there is some other type of substantial gainful activity in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform. Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 853, 857 (8th Cir. 2000); Brock v. Apfel, 118 F.Supp.2d 974 (W.D. Mo. 2000).

The Social Security Administration has promulgated detailed regulations setting out a sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. These regulations are codified at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1501, et seq. The five-step sequential evaluation process used by the Commissioner is outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and is summarized as follows:

1. Is the claimant performing substantial gainful activity?

2. Does the claimant have a severe impairment or a combination of impairments which significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities?

3. Does the impairment meet or equal a listed impairment in Appendix 1?

4. Does the impairment prevent the claimant from doing past relevant work?

5. Does the impairment prevent the claimant from doing any other work?

IV. THE RECORD

The record consists of the testimony of plaintiff, her mother, and vocational expert Stella Doering, in addition to documentary evidence admitted at the hearing.

A. EARNINGS RECORD

2007 Spamis Data Center Job Corps Pay $ 284.70 Happy Chef 288.56 Godfather's Pizza 253.32 City of Belton 425.25

Total $ 1, 354.83 2008 Papas Partners $ 220.25 Coborns 476.86 Happy Chef 449.38 West Central Missouri Community Action Agency 2, 497.08 Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society 412.34 Total $ 4, 319.87 2009 Spencer Reed Group $ 10.00 West Central Missouri Community Action Agency 814.63 Salvation Army 330.00 Total $ 1, 154.63 2010 Salvation Army $ 88.00 Total $ 88.00 2011 Total $ 0.00

(Tr. at 197-199)

B. SUMMARY OF MEDICAL RECORDS

The record in this case is voluminous. Plaintiff has adequately summarized the medical records in her brief and I will not repeat that here. However, I will highlight a few records.

Plaintiff has been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, [1] "very severe obstructive sleep apnea, "[2] diabetes mellitus, [3] cardiomegaly, [4] tachycardia, [5] recurrent cellulitis, [6] migraine headaches, hypertension, and morbid obesity (Tr. at 351-357, 439-440, 443, 446-447, 457-458, 461-462, 469-473, 478-479, 487-488, 574-576, 712-721, 1218-1222, 1230-1243, 1252-1258, 1267-1282, 1303-1304, 1312-1314, 1326, 1330-1333, 1335-1336, 1337-1340, 1346-1348, 1351-1356, 1358, 1360, 1362, 1384-1386, 1395-1398, 1406-1407, 1434-1435, 1442-1443, 1482-1484, 1498-1507, 1512-1514).

Plaintiff has a long history of mental health problems and treatment. She has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, [7] Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, [8] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, [9] Generalized Anxiety Disorder, [10] and Cluster B Personality Traits.[11] Plaintiff has been hospitalized numerous times because of these conditions despite her treatment.

She was hospitalized at Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital from December 11, 2009, through December 19, 2009, when she was discharged with a guarded prognosis. The treating doctor noted that he was well familiar with plaintiff due ...


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