United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's
denial of her application for Social Security Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. An
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) and 405(g).
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); and
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 Cir. 2006).
argues the ALJ “seemingly rejected” the opinion
of Dr. Lavender and that the RFC is not supported substantial
the Court has thoroughly reviewed the administrative record
before the Court, including the medical records, hearing
testimony, and the ALJ's opinion. The Court finds that
the ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole and was within the
available “zone of choice.” The ALJ provided a
lengthy analysis of the medical opinion evidence and properly
addressed Plaintiff's own statements, as well as the
additional testimony at the hearing. The Court gives great
deference to the ALJ's determination as it falls within
an acceptable “zone of choice” of the finder of
the Court will not disturb the ALJ's credibility
determination. In finding Plaintiff's allegations not
completely credible, the ALJ considered such things as
Plaintiff's reported limitations, the objective medical
evidence and medical opinions, Plaintiff's daily
activities, and Plaintiff's work history. The Court finds
the ALJ recognized the appropriate analytic framework,
considered the appropriate factors, and gave good reasons for
discrediting Plaintiff's testimony. See generally
Tucker v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 781, 783 (8th Cir.
2004) (“The ALJ is not required to discuss each
Polaski factor as long as the analytical framework
is recognized and considered.”). Accordingly, the Court
will defer to the ALJ's judgment. See Whitman v.
Colvin, 762 F.3d 701, 707 (8th Cir. 2014)
(“Questions of credibility are for the ALJ in the first
instance” and “[i]f an ALJ explicitly discredits
a claimant's testimony and gives a good reason for doing
so, we will normally defer to that judgment.”).
with regard to the ALJ's alleged error in incorrectly
stating that the record did not contain “actual
records” from Dr. Lavender, or that Dr. Lavendar never
actually treated Plaintiff, the Court does not find a
reversible error. See Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 913,
917 (8th Cir. 2012) (To show an error was not harmless,
plaintiff must prove the ALJ would have made a different
determination if the error had not occurred.); citing,
Van Vickle v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 825, 830 (8th Cir.
2008) (“There is no indication that the ALJ would have
decided differently ... and any error by the ALJ was
therefore harmless.”); and Hensley v.
Barnhart, 352 F.3d 353, 357 (8th Cir. 2003) (holding
that applying the incorrect grid rule is harmless error when
a claimant is not disabled under the proper rule). Here, even
if the ALJ did make an error in citing to the medical record
regarding Dr. Lavender, there is no indication that the ALJ
would have made a different determination based on
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. The ALJ
concluded Dr. Lavender's opinion was not consistent with
the record as a whole, a conclusion this Court finds is
supported by the record. Further, while Dr. Lavender did in
fact see Plaintiff on three occasions, his records were
coordinated through his attending physicians, Dr. Lauriello
and Dr. Parvez. Specifically, the ALJ references “there
is mention of his name [Dr. Lavender] in the claimant's
records, ” but states it “does not appear to be
any actual records from Dr. Lavender.” It appears from
the record before the Court, the ALJ may have believed the
medical records were those of Dr. Lavender's attending
physicians and thus mistakenly made reference to the absence
of records from Dr. Lavender. Regardless, the Court finds
that the ALJ's determination is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole.
the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds there is
substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support the
ALJ's determination. Accordingly, the Commissioner's
decision denying benefits is AFFIRMED.