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Ellsworth v. Colvin

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

September 29, 2016

MELINDA ELLSWORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Melinda Ellsworth 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 depression, anxiety, and personality disorder, but she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light, unskilled work as an injection mold tender and production assembler.

         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 October 31, 2012. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing on October 31, 2013, and on February 21, 2014, issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 22, 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[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 contends the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to: (1) provide good reasons for discounting her treating psychiatrist's opinion; and (2) include sufficient limitations in the RFC based on the state agency consultant's opinion, or to explain his reasons for omitting these limitations from his RFC.

         These arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ did not err in weighing Dr. Ceniceros' opinion.

         Plaintiff began seeing her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Salvador Ceniceros, M.D. (“Dr. Ceniceros”), in September 2012, the month before she filed for benefits. Plaintiff saw him ten times between September 2012 and June 2013. R. at 223-30. Shortly before her hearing, on September 27, 2013, Dr. Ceniceros completed a Medical Source Statement-Mental (“MSS-M”) finding that Plaintiff was markedly limited in eight categories of mental functioning and moderately limited in twelve other categories of mental functioning. R. at 259-62. A few weeks after the administrative hearing, on ...


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