United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.
DOUGLAS HARPOOL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's
denial of her application for disability benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq. Plaintiff has exhausted her
administrative remedies and the matter is now ripe for
judicial review. After carefully reviewing the files and
records, the Court finds the decision of the Commissioner is
not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole and the decision is REVERSED and REMANDED.
procedural history, facts, and issues of this case are
contained in the record and the parties' briefs, so they
are not repeated here. Plaintiff is a 62-year old woman (at
the time of the ALJ's decision) who applied for benefits
and the ALJ found Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments
of disorder of the back, hiatal hernia, history of heart
disease, various GI-related diagnoses (e.g., interstitial
cystitis, Barrett's esophagus, and gastritis), anxiety
and depression. After finding Plaintiff's impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to “perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except she cannot climb ladders, ropes
or scaffolds and can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs
as well as stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, balance, and bend;
she can have only occasional interaction with the public and
with co-workers and supervisors.” The ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a
sterilizer, stating “this work does not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's residual functional capacity.” The ALJ
found that claimant is able to perform the job of sterilizer
as “actually performed.”
argues on appeal that the ALJ erred in assessing
Plaintiff's RFC and that the ALJ's step four
determination is legally flawed.
review of the Commissioner's decision is a limited
inquiry into whether substantial evidence supports the
findings of the Commissioner and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. See 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(1)(B)(ii)(3). Substantial evidence is less
than a preponderance of the evidence and requires enough
evidence to allow a reasonable person to find adequate
support for the Commissioner's conclusion. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Freeman v.
Apfel, 208 F.3d 687, 690 (8th Cir. 2000). This standard
requires a court to consider both the evidence that supports
the Commissioner's decision and the evidence that
detracts from it. Finch v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935
(8th Cir. 2008). That the reviewing court would come to a
different conclusion is not a sufficient basis for reversal.
Wiese v. Astrue, 552 F.3d 728, 730 (8th Cir. 2009).
Rather, “[i]f, after review, we find it possible to
draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of
those positions represents the Commissioner's findings,
we must affirm the denial of benefits.” Id.
(quoting Mapes v. Chater, 82 F.3d 259, 262 (8th Cir.
1996)). Courts “defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions of the Social Security Administration” and
will disturb the Commissioner's decision only if it falls
outside the “zone of choice.” Hurd v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010); Casey v.
Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 691 (8th Cir. 2007).
full and careful review of the record and briefs, the Court
finds the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole.
a treating physician's opinion is given at least
substantial weight under the Social Security Administration
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c), 416.927(c),
see also Brown v. Colvin, 2014 WL 1687430 *2 (W.D.
Mo. 2014). However, such an opinion “does not
automatically control or obviate the need to evaluate the
record as a whole.” Brown v. Colvin, 2014 WL
1687430, at *2 (W.D. Mo. April 29, 2014); citing, Brown
v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 540 (8th Cir. 2004). Rather,
an “ALJ may discount or disregard the opinion of a
treating physician where other medical assessments are more
thoroughly supported or where a treating physician renders
inconsistent opinions.” Id.; citing,
Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir.
determining how much weight to accord a physician's
opinion, the ALJ must take into account a variety of
considerations including: whether the opinion is supported
with facts and evidence; whether the opinion is consistent
with other evidence and opinions, including the
physician's own notes; and whether the physician's
specialty gives her[or him] greater credibility.”
Id., citing, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c),
416.927(c); and Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057,
1065 (8th Cir. 2012). The Court does not re-weigh the
evidence presented to the ALJ and defers to the ALJ's
determinations regarding the credibility of testimony, so
long as it is supported by substantial evidence. See
Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir.
2005). Further, a claimant's subjective complaints may be
discounted if there are inconsistencies in the record as a
the Court finds the ALJ did not properly explain the weight
given to the medical records. For example, the ALJ gave
“partial weight” to two State agency medical
opinions but little weight to the treating physician records.
The ALJ gave partial weight to the “opinion” of
Dr. Chopra. Dr. Chopra's medical opinion was one
paragraph, which stated, in its entirety, :
61 year old claimant alleging disability due to degenerative
spine, FM, heart disease. AOD=1 0/01/11.
Medical evidence currently in file reviewed. PRFC signed by
Denise R. Trowbridge, MD, dated 1 0/29/12 is ...