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Cooper v. Colvin

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

July 28, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 and her application for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Plaintiff has exhausted her 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. The decision of the Commission is affirmed.


Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on September 16, 2011. Plaintiff was born in 1968 and claims she became disabled beginning February 4, 2009. Plaintiff's disability report states she has an alleged disability due to upper and lower back; depression; asthma; high blood pressure; and pain in legs from nerve damage.

The claim was initially denied on December 5, 2011. Plaintiff filed a request for an Administrative Law Judge hearing, and after the hearing on May 3, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Act. Plaintiff then filed a request for Review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council, which was denied on July 2, 2014.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments that included osteoarthritis in her left knee status post left knee surgery, degenerative disc disease in her lumbar and cervical spine, peripheral sensory and motor neuropathy, denerving changes at the L4-L5, L5-S-1, C6/C7 and C7/C8 nerve roots, fibromyalgia and asthma. However, the ALJ held that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a document scanner and a surveillance systems monitor.

Based on the ALJ's findings, the ALJ found that the claimant is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff's current appeal argues the ALJ failed to derive a proper mental RFC.


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 she 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) she was severely impaired; (3) her impairment was, or was comparable to, a listed impairment; (4) she could perform past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether she could perform any other kind of work. Id., citing, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).

A. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's RFC Assessment.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ's Decision failed to include any mental health limitations despite substantial evidence indicating Plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments, in combination, limit Plaintiff's concentration and focus.

RFC assessments are reserved to the Commissioner and are based on the record as a whole. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). "RFC is defined as the most a claimant can still do despite his or her physical or mental limitations." Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011); citing, Leckenby v. Astrue, 487 F.3d 626, 631 n. 5 (8th Cir. 2007)(internal quotations, alteration, and citations omitted). "The ALJ bears the primary responsibility for determining a claimant's RFC and because RFC is a medical question, some medical evidence must support the determination of the claimant's RFC." Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1016 (8th Cir. 2010). "However, the burden of persuasion to prove disability and demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant." Id. "The record must be evaluated as a whole to determine whether the treating physician's opinion should control." Id. When a treating physician's opinions "are inconsistent or contrary to the medical evidence as a whole, they are entitled to less weight." Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929-30 (8th Cir. 2010); citing, Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1023 (8th Cir. 2002). "It is the ALJ's responsibility to determine a claimant's RFC based on all relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and claimant's own descriptions of his limitations." Tellez v. Barnhart, 403 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2005), citing, Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.2001). The ALJ must first evaluate the claimant's credibility before determining a claimant's RFC. Id.

Here, the ALJ provided an extensive review and analysis based upon the statutes, medical evidence and testimony. The ALJ considered the four functional areas set out for evaluating mental disorders and found that Plaintiff's did not cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to perform basic mental work activities and were therefore non-severe. Plaintiff testified at the hearing she did not get mental health treatment but takes depression and anxiety medicine.[1] Further, she denied having depression and anxiety to some of her doctors. The ALJ recognized Plaintiff's testimony regarding ...

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