United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND
ROBERT E. LARSEN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Trena Davis seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff argues that the Appeals Council erred in failing to consider new and material evidence, and that the ALJ erred in failing to fully develop the record by not obtaining the missing medical records related to plaintiff's worker's compensation case and not attempting to obtain further details from plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Wen. I find that the ALJ erred in failing to develop the record. Therefore, plaintiff's request to remand this case for further consideration will be granted.
On August 9, 2011, plaintiff applied for disability benefits alleging that she had been disabled since November 17, 2009. Plaintiff's disability stems from chronic pain in both hips, pain in her legs, and depression. Plaintiff's application was denied on September 13, 2011. On September 4, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge. On September 10, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not under a "disability" as defined in the Act. On January 3, 2014, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
On September 10, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion to amend/correct the administrative transcript by requiring a "complete transcript, " requesting that a Medical Source Statement dated February 28, 2013, prepared by Dr. Dennis Wen and clinic notes from Green Meadows Family Medicine dated January 29, 2013, and February 17, 2013, be included in the administrative transcript before the court. On October 15, 2014, that motion was denied as moot after defendant filed a supplemental transcript which included the Medical Source Statement by Dr. Wen and records from Green Meadows Family Medicine dated January 29, 2013. The evidence established that the medical records dated February 28, 2013, were not presented to the Appeals Council as stated in plaintiff's motion. Although this additional evidence was made a part of the administrative record before me, the parties were directed to provide legal authority for their use in this appeal.
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 contains the following evidence.
A. ADMINISTRATIVE REPORTS
The record contains the following administrative reports:
The record shows that plaintiff earned the following income from ...