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Jesse v. Colvin

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

February 13, 2015

DAVID M. JESSE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff David M. Jesse petitions for review of an adverse decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff applied 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. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including intermittent explosive disorder, anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), but retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a linen room attendant, order filler, or furniture wiper.

Because the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

Background

A complete summary of the record is presented in the parties' briefs and repeated here only to the extent necessary. Plaintiff filed his pending applications on October 17, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 18, 2011. After the Commissioner denied his applications, Plaintiff requested an ALJ hearing. On June 27, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 3, 2014, 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'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. Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). 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.

Discussion

The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine 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 at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred: (1) at Steps Four and Five by improperly weighing the evidence; and (2) at Step Five by identifying other work for him that conflicted with his RFC. Neither argument has merit.

I. The ALJ properly assessed the record evidence.

Plaintiff first attacks how the ALJ weighed two sets of evidence in formulating his RFC: medical opinions, and Plaintiff's own testimony.

A. The ALJ properly weighed the medical opinions.

The ALJ gave little weight to the opinions of treating psychologist Steve Daily, M.S. ("Mr. Daily"), and treating psychiatrist Zafar Mahmood, M.D. ("Dr. Mahmood"). R. at 22-23. In their place, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of consultative psychologist Nina Epperson, ...


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