United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.
This action seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("the Commissioner") decision denying Plaintiff Tina Freeman's applications for Social Security benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the 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 had several impairments, but no severe impairments, thus she was not disabled under the Act.
After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
Procedural and Factual Background
The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.
Plaintiff filed her applications on August 8, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of May 23, 2009. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held two hearings, and on September 13, 2012, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 10, 2013, 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) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Standard of Review
The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process 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).
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.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find she suffered from a severe impairment; (2) failing to order additional personality testing to clarify whether she suffered from a somatoform disorder; and (3) failing to give more weight to her treating physician's opinion. The Court finds no merit to these claims.
At the outset, the Court notes the ALJ's decision rests in large part on his credibility determination, which Plaintiff does not challenge. The ALJ found Plaintiff's allegations were not credible for a variety of reasons, including: (1) the lack of objective medical evidence supporting her claims; (2) her sporadic work history; (3) the fact that she exaggerated her symptoms; and (4) the fact that at different times she displayed drug seeking behavior. R. at 14, 16, 18, 185, 221, 457, 609-11. With that in mind, the Court turns to Plaintiff's specific arguments.
A. The ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff had no severe impairments.
At step two in this case, the ALJ found Plaintiff had impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and a mood disorder,  but no severe impairments. A medically determinable impairment is "severe" if it more than minimally affects the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007). The impairment "must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques... and must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the claimant's] statement of symptoms..." Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011). The claimant bears ...