United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's
denial of her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
and Supplemental Security Income. The Administrative Law
Judge denied Plaintiff's claims and the Appeals Counsel
subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
ALJ's determination. Therefore, Plaintiff has exhausted
her administrative remedies and the matter is now ripe for
judicial review. The Court reviews the Commissioner's
final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3)
Court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is to
determine whether the “findings are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole.”
Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1042-43 (8th Cir.
2007) (citing Haggard v. Apfel, 175 F.3d 591, 594
(8th Cir.1999)). “Substantial evidence is relevant
evidence which a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.”
Id. “The fact that some evidence may support a
conclusion opposite from that reached by the Commissioner
does not alone permit our reversal of the Commissioner's
decision.” Id. (citing Kelley v.
Barnhart, 372 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2004)); Travis
v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007). If the
record contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's decision, the Court may not reverse the
decision simply because substantial evidence exists in the
record that would have supported a contrary outcome.
Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir.
2002). In other words, the Court cannot reverse simply
because it would have decided the case differently.
Id. (citing Woolf v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210,
1213 (8th Cir. 1993)). 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.” Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556
(8th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). Further, the
Court defers to the ALJ's determinations of the
credibility of witness testimony, as long as the ALJ's
determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial
evidence. Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th
essence of Plaintiff's assertion of error is that the ALJ
improperly relied on the opinions of non-examining, state
agency physicians whose review of the medical records did not
include Plaintiff's most recent medical records.
Plaintiff had multiple visits to clinics and a visit to the
hospital in the period following the evaluations performed by
the state agency physicians. Although the ALJ examined and
considered these records, finding them to be consistent with
the findings of the earlier examinations, Plaintiff claims
that these later records demonstrate Plaintiff was more
limited than the Residual Functional Capacity found by the
ALJ. Thus, Plaintiff claims the ALJ's RFC is not
supported by substantial evidence in the record.
Court has thoroughly reviewed the administrative record on
appeal, including the medical records, hearing testimony, and
the ALJ's opinion. The Court concludes that the ALJ's
determination is supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole and was within the available “zone of
choice.” Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.
concluded that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments
of degenerative disc disease and obesity. (Tr. 15). The ALJ
found the following Residual Functional Capacity for
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to lift and
carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently.
She can stand or walk for up two hours and sit for up to six
hours in an eight-hour workday. She cannot climb ladders,,
ropes and scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or
crawl. She must avoid all unprotected heights and hazardous
must base the RFC on all of the relevant evidence in the
record. Hutsell v. Massanari, 259 F.3d 707, 711 (8th
Cir. 2001). “[S]ome medical evidence” must
support the RFC finding. Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d
700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001).
claims the RFC is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of two
non-examining physicians, and the opinions of those
physicians “failed to address the severity of the
findings in the lumbar MRI and also did not have access to
substantial evidence submitted after the opinion concerning
another year and a half of treatment.” (Pl.'s Br.
13). Plaintiff had an MRI on April 6, 2012, which showed:
L5 bilateral spondylysis with grade 1 anterolistheses L5 on
S1 and moderate to severe secondary degenerative disc disease
with mild lateral recess and moderate to severe bilateral
neural foraminal narrowing which may have been impinging upon
either of the exiting L5 nerve roots. Otherwise moderate to
severe multilevel degenerative disc disease with levels of
mild central canal and moderate to severe neural foraminal
narrowing as described with possible impingement of any of
the exiting nerve roots at ¶ 2-L3 and below.
(Tr. 435). Plaintiff claims the non-examining physician
“ignored the severe findings in the lumbar MRI as a
contributing factor to [Plaintiff's] severe
limitations.” (Pl.'s Br. 13). This is not accurate.
Dr. Trowbridge, the initial physician, noted that there were
“reported results of [an] MRI from 4/6/2012 with
multilevel disc desiccation with anterolisthesis of L5 on S1
resulting in some bilateral neural foraminal narrowing
causing nerve root impingement; also, central canal stenosis
multiple levels.” (Tr. 63). Dr. Rees reviewed the same
evidence and noted, “MRI of lumbar spine reveals disc
desiccation L5-S1. [Range of motion] in the lumbar spine
decreased. On 5/1/12 during the [physical exam] there was
tenderness to palpation in the lower back with decreased
[range of motion].” (Tr. 406). Dr. Trowbridge concluded
that Plaintiff could occasionally lift/carry twenty pounds,
frequently lift/carry ten pounds, stand/walk for up to two
hours with normal breaks, and sit for about six hours with
normal breaks. (Tr. 65-66). Dr. Trowbridge took into
consideration the fact that Plaintiff “is exertionally
limited by back and ...