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Joplin v. Colvin

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

September 12, 2016

KRISTIE JOPLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Kristie Joplin seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner's”) denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe physical impairments of a fracture of the thoracic spine post-surgery, sciatica, lumbago, and a chronic hepatitis C infection, but she retained the residual functional capacity to perform work as a cashier, information clerk, and small products assembler.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court holds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The medical record is summarized in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed her application on January 3, 2012.[1] The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a video hearing, and on January 16, 2014, issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 18, 2015, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all of her administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

         A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny SSI benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). 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. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available “zone of choice, ” and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

         Analysis

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[2] 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).

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to: (1) find she possessed a severe mental impairment at step two; (2) find her disabled under Listing 5.08 for a digestive disorder at step three;[3] and (3) give her treating physician's opinion controlling weight. These arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ did not err in finding Plaintiff did not suffer from a severe mental impairment.

         Plaintiff argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's finding that she does not suffer from a severe mental impairment. The Court finds substantial evidence supports this finding.

         In order to meet the step two “severity” requirement, Plaintiff had to show she had (1) a “medically determinable” impairment or combination of impairments which (2) significantly limits her physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities without regard to age, education, or work experience, for the required twelve-month duration. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 416.921(a) (2013); King v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 978, 979 n.2 (8th Cir. 2009). ...


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