United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. 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 finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and the decision of the Commission is affirmed.
Plaintiff filed his application for benefits on or about July 12, 2011. Plaintiff was born in 1987 and claims he became disabled beginning May 1, 2011. Plaintiff has an eleventh grade education, and has subsequently worked as a construction worker. He filed his application based on thrombophlebitis, manic depression, bipolar disorder, and pulmonary embolus. Plaintiff quit working in May 2011 due to the alleged disabilities, and has not worked since.
In January 2002, Plaintiff received cognitive tests through a cooperative diagnostic report revealing average cognitive skills. However, various teachers and faculty showed concern with social skills, problem solving skills, vocabulary, and reading proficiency. Plaintiff began an individualized educational program in late February 2003 and received improved grades that semester. Nonetheless, he ultimately quit school in November 2003.
Plaintiff appears to have had no further significant testing, psychological or otherwise, until 2011. On June 30, 2011, Plaintiff was admitted (for a second time that month) to Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare center for increasing pain and was eventually diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary emboli, hemoptysis and tobacco use. Doctors recommended the cessation of tobacco use. However, Plaintiff did not appear to comply. Plaintiff continued to see various doctors for an array of physical and mental concerns.
Plaintiff was initially denied his social security claim on August 25, 2011. He appealed the decision on October 10, 2011 and requested a hearing. At the hearing on September 7, 2012, Plaintiff testified his blood clot disorder in his legs, along with his required blood thinners, left him unable to stand for long periods of time and intolerant of heat. He also testified his bipolar disorder may have led to him losing a job, and that his depression affected his sleep, appetite, energy level, and ability to concentrate. During the hearing, a vocational expert testified an individual similar to Plaintiff would be capable of performing certain jobs, such as a riveting machine operator, twisting machine operator, boring machine tender, folding machine operator, and injection mold machine tender. The expert testified Plaintiff could not perform past work as a construction worker due to exposure of extreme temperatures and hazards.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff did have severe impairments that included bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, a history of learning disability, a history of deep venous thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. However, the ALJ found that he did not have impairment, or combination of impairments, listed in or medically equivalent to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functioning capacity (RFC) to perform a range of simple, unskilled, low-stress work. The ALJ found the impairments would not preclude Plaintiff from performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, and that he was ultimately not disabled. On December 7, 2012, the ALJ denied benefits to Plaintiff.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a request for review with the Appeals Council. This request was denied on April 15, 2014. The Appeals Council stated the additional evidence submitted by Plaintiff did not provide a basis for changing the ALJ's determination. The documents were made part of the record, and the Appeals Council noted that some of the documents were exact copies of Exhibits already in the record. In addition, the Medical Source Statement submitted was dated February 18, 2014 and the ALJ's determination was based on whether Plaintiff was disabled through December 7, 2012.
Plaintiff's current appeal argues the following alleged errors: 1) the ALJ erred in failing to give greater weight to the opinions of certain treating and examining physicians; 2) the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's RFC assessment; 3) the ALJ erred in his evaluation of Plaintiff's credibility; and 4) the Commissioner erred in not remanding the case for further consideration based on additional evidence.
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).
In order to qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act and the accompanying regulations, Plaintiff must establish he is disabled. Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929 (8th Cir. 2010); citing, Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.2009). "Disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.'" Id., quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To determine disability, the ALJ follows an established five-step process that considers whether: (1) the claimant was employed; (2) he was severely impaired; (3) his impairment was, or was ...