United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
TAMMY R. COX, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security's (“the Commissioner”)
decision denying Plaintiff Tammy Cox's applications for
Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under
Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381- 1383f. The
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff
had severe impairments of low back pain, obesity, and
anxiety/depression, but retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform semi-skilled work as
a cost clerk, data entry clerk, and administrative clerk.
carefully reviewing the record and the parties'
arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported
by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
and Factual Background
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
filed her applications on March 25, 2012. Her amended
applications alleged a disability onset date of June 9, 2012,
her fiftieth birthday.
Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim
level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ
held a hearing, and on August 29, 2013, issued a decision
finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 28,
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. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C.
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. §
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. 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.
argues the ALJ erred by failing to properly: (1) weigh the
medical opinion evidence; (2) evaluate her credibility; and
(3) determine her RFC. Plaintiff also argues (4) the Appeals
Council erred by failing to consider new and material
evidence. These arguments are without merit.
The ALJ did not err in weighing the medical opinion
The ALJ did not err in weighing her treating physician's
first argues that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion of
her treating physician, Dr. Robert Buzard, M.D. (“Dr.
Buzard”). Dr. Buzard treated Plaintiff from December
2011 through at least June 2013, with a one-year gap between
May 2012 and May 2013 when Plaintiff apparently received no
treatment for her back at all. Despite this treatment gap, on
June 24, 2013, Dr. Buzard completed a “Multiple
Impairment Questionnaire” for her in which he opined
she was able to sit three hours total and stand/walk two
hours total in an eight-hour workday. R. at 349. The ALJ gave
little weight to Dr. Buzard's opinion because it was
inconsistent with the treatment records, the “mostly
normal” objective medical evidence, and Plaintiff's
testimony. R. at 24.
argues Dr. Buzard provided extensive support for his opinion,
and the fact that she can walk and lift twenty pounds does
not contradict his opinion that she cannot work forty hours a
week. Plaintiff acknowledges she did not have any diagnostic
imaging of her spine done, but contends this was because she
could not afford it, and an inability to afford medical care
cannot be held against her. Alternately, she contends that
even if the ALJ did not err by declining to give Dr.
Buzard's opinion controlling weight, ...