United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
PAMELA G. RUE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
E. RICHARD WEBBER, Senior District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge John M. Bodenhausen [ECF No. 18], pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Pamela Rue brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting judicial review of the decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner), finding she is not "disabled" and denying her application for supplemental security income. This matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge John M. Bodenhausen concluded there was substantial evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings, and therefore recommended the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. See, e.g., Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002) (role of the reviewing court with respect to administrative adjudications by the Commissioner of Social Security is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision was supported by "substantial evidence").
Plaintiff timely filed Objections [ECF No. 28] to the Report and Recommendation. "[W]hen a party objects to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge concerning a dispositive matter, [a] judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.'" U.S. v. Lothridge, 324 F.3d 599, 600 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). Thus, the Court conducts a de novo review of the matters raised in Plaintiff's Objections.
In her Objections to the Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff argues the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) failed to follow the treating physician rule and failed to properly determine Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity, failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility, and relied on flawed vocational expert testimony.
The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the decision was supported by "substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022. In assessing the record as a whole, courts "consider evidence that detracts from the decision, as well as evidence that supports it." Gates v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 1080, 1082 (8th Cir. 2010). "Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. Thus, so long as there is substantial evidence supporting the decision, the reviewing court may not reverse even if there is also substantial evidence that would support a contrary outcome. Id .; see also Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988) ("The concept of substantial evidence is something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Comissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.").
In determining whether an applicant is "disabled" for purposes of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner applies a five-step sequential analysis. Steps One through Three require the claimant to prove (1) she is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, (2) she suffers from a severe impairment, and (3) her disability meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(iii). If the claimant does not suffer from a listed impairment or its equivalent, the Commissioner's analysis proceeds to Steps Four and Five. Step Four requires the Commissioner to consider whether the claimant retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to perform her Past Relevant Work (PRW). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating she is no longer able to return to her PRW. Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner determines the claimant cannot return to the PRW, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five to show the claimant retains the RFC to perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
A. Dr. Azar Malik and Residual Functional Capacity
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinions of treating psychiatrist Dr. Azfar Malik. Further, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ's determination of RFC was without support of substantial evidence in the record.
1. Dr. Azfar Malik
In his decision, the ALJ considered Dr. Malik's findings and opinions of limitations but gave little evidentiary weight to them. Tr. 35-36. The ALJ discounted Dr. Malik's opinions because of the inconsistencies in his findings. The ALJ noted the inconsistency between Dr. Malik's findings and the Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score Dr. Malik gave to Plaintiff. Plaintiff asserts Dr. Malik's findings are consistent with the treatment records and psychiatric findings through a mental examination are appropriate diagnostic evidence for mental impairments. Further, Plaintiff argues mental limitations are not required to be in a doctor's treatment notes. Plaintiff claims the ALJ's reliance on Plaintiff's non-compliance with her medication fails to take into account the influence of mental illness on a patient's ability to follow a medication regimen. Lastly, Plaintiff contends the GAF score is consistent with a finding of disability and is consistent with Dr. Malik's findings that Plaintiff has restrictions preventing her from working.
The ALJ did not err in discounting Dr. Malik's findings and opinions. After a careful consideration of Dr. Malik's own findings and records, the ALJ found several inconsistencies which prevented the ALJ from relying on his conclusions. While Plaintiff is correct mental disorders are more difficult to substantiate with objective evidence than a physical ailment, the ALJ did not discount Dr. Malik's findings for a lack of objective evidence to support the findings of mental illness. See Blankenship v. Bowen, 874 F.2d 1116, 1121 (6th 1989) (citations omitted). The ALJ discounted Dr. Malik's findings because of the inconsistencies within the findings and his own treatment records concerning Plaintiff. An ALJ may disregard the opinion of a treating physician, if the physician "renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of such opinions." Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010). The ALJ's determination Dr. Malik's opinion was unreliable is reasonable as there are several inconsistencies in his findings such as his opinion Plaintiff has a GAF score of 40 but is capable of simple, low stress work. Another example is his finding Plaintiff's mental illness was not stabilized with medication without taking into account Plaintiff's non-compliance ...