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Voorhies v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.

September 12, 2016

MARY JOAMMIE VOORHIES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Mary Voorhies petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found she had multiple severe impairments including Hashimoto's disease, fibromyalgia, pain disorder with depression, anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a document preparer, addressing clerk, or weight tester. The ALJ thus found her not disabled.

         As explained below, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is therefore 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 the pending applications on May 4, 2012, claiming a disability onset date of April 15, 2008, and a last-insured date of December 31, 2012. The Commissioner denied her applications at the initial claim level. The ALJ heard her case but issued an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, 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), 1383(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

         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. Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015). 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. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Discussion

         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). This five-step process considers whether: “1) whether the claimant is currently employed; 2) whether the claimant is severely impaired; 3) whether the impairment is, or is comparable to, a listed impairment; 4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and if not, 5) whether the claimant can perform any other kind of work.” Andrews, 791 F.3d at 928.

         Plaintiff makes two types of arguments on appeal. First, she argues that in formulating her RFC, the ALJ improperly neglected certain of her limitations. Second, she argues the ALJ improperly found her incredible.

         I. The ALJ's RFC finding is supported by substantial record evidence.

         Plaintiff's first argument relates to her RFC, which is the most a claimant can do despite her limitations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). “The RFC must (1) give appropriate consideration to all of [the claimant's] impairments, and (2) be based on competent medical evidence establishing the physical and mental activity that the claimant can perform in a work setting.” Mabry v. Colvin, 815 F.3d 386, 390 (8th Cir. 2016) (alteration in original).

         Plaintiff gives several reasons for why she thinks the ALJ failed to properly determine her RFC. First, she argues the ALJ ignored limitations identified by Brooke Preylo, Psy.D. (“Dr. Preylo”), and Martin Isenberg, Ph.D. (“Dr. Isenberg”). Dr. Preylo opined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in her ability to interact with supervisors and coworkers. R. at 800, 803. Dr. Isenberg opined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in her ability to accept instructions and to respond ...


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