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Gleason v. Colvin

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

September 16, 2016

MONICA GLEASON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Monica Gleason petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, anemia, disorder of the left leg and ankle, and vision impairment, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a document preparer, polisher, or pager.

         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 application on June 29, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 1998. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. On December 10, 2013, the ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff amended her disability onset date to June 29, 2012. On January 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 31, 2015, 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. § 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. 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[1] 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 argues that the ALJ improperly: (1) failed to fully and fairly develop the record, resulting in an erroneous finding that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.04; and (2) weighed the medical evidence, resulting in a flawed RFC determination. These arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ properly found that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.04.

         First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record, resulting in a finding that Plaintiff failed to meet Listing 12.04. Pl.'s Br. 17 (Doc. 9). The Commissioner contends that Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that her medical impairments met or exceeded Listing 12.04. Def.'s Br. 7-16 (Doc. 10).

         At Step Three, a plaintiff must show that her impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal all of the specified criteria in a listing. See Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). Listing 12.04 addresses affective disorders “[c]haracterized by a disturbance of mood, [and] accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome.” 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 12.04. Plaintiff must meet the requirements of both paragraphs A and B to meet Listing 12.04.[2] The ALJ found Plaintiff satisfied paragraph A, and only paragraph B is at issue here. Paragraph B requires that the affective disorder result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; ...


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