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Emery v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

September 21, 2016

ANNIE JO EMERY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Annie Jo Emery seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner's”) denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disk disease, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but she retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with restrictions as a collator operator, electrical assembler, and price maker.

         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 June 11, 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 November 27, 2013, issued her decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 8, 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 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: (1) failing to determine the effects of purportedly living in a highly structured setting upon Plaintiff's activities of daily living; and (2) giving more weight to the opinion of the consultative psychologist than to the opinions of her counselors or primary care physician. These arguments are without merit.

         I. Plaintiff did not live in a “highly structured setting, ” thus the ALJ properly considered her activities of daily living.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not meet Listing 12.06[3] for a disabling anxiety disorder because the medical evidence and her activities of daily living showed her symptoms were not sufficiently severe. R. at 12. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in considering her activities of daily living because she lived in a highly structured, supportive setting, thus her activities of daily living did not accurately depict her ability to function independently in a workplace. Plaintiff contends that given the level of structure and support in her home situation, the ALJ should have focused on her ability to function outside of her home.

         This argument is unavailing, however, because Plaintiff did not live in a “highly structured and supportive setting” as envisioned by the ...


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