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Ivy v. Colvin

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

January 12, 2017

GARY IVY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to a determination whether the decision is “supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we would have decided the case differently.” Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th Cir. 2010).


         Plaintiff was born in 1980 and has a high school education. R. at 22, 111, 148, 292. He applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on in August 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2005. R. at 14-15, 42-43, 138, 292-96, 326-32. Plaintiff's application was denied, and he requested a hearing. On November 20, 2012, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. at 106-130. On December 22, 2014, the ALJ issued his decision, concluding Plaintiff became disabled on November 11, 2011, but was not disabled before that date. R. at 138-51. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled prior to December 31, 2010, the date last insured. Id. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which remanded the matter. R. at 158-60. On September 25, 2014, another hearing was conducted. R. at 40-99. On January 20, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 14-32.

         In reaching his decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine and mental disorders variously diagnosed as depression, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, and adjustment disorder.” R. at 17. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift forty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently. R. at 21. Plaintiff has no limitation with regard to standing, walking, or sitting. Id. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders and scaffolds. Id. Plaintiff can stoop frequently, and can occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. He can frequently push and pull with his arms and legs, and reach in all directions. Id. Plaintiff must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibrations. Id. Plaintiff can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and non-detailed tasks; he can perform repetitive work; and can respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers in a task-oriented setting where contact with others including the public is infrequent. Id. Based upon the RFC and the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a pillow filler and layup worker. R. at 31. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which dismissed his appeal in March 2016. R. at 1-3.


         Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because the ALJ's RFC was not properly formulated for three reasons. Doc. #7, at 24-34. First, the ALJ did not properly weigh the medical opinion evidence. Second, the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's pain when assessing the RFC. Third, the ALJ should have ordered a consultative examination.

         A. Treating Physician's Opinion

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in affording little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Ball. Generally, a treating physician's opinion is given more weight than other sources in a disability proceeding. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). A treating physician's opinion may be disregarded if it is unsupported by clinical or other data or is contrary to the weight of the remaining evidence in the record. See Anderson, 696 F.3d at 793-94; Pena v. Chater, 76 F.3d 906, 908 (8th Cir. 1996). Ultimately, the ALJ must “give good reasons” to explain the weight given the treating physician's opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); Anderson, 696 F.3d at 793.

         In August 2011, Dr. Ball submitted a Medical Source Statement - Physical. R. at 611-12. Dr. Ball opined Plaintiff could lift and/or carry five pounds frequently, and lift and carry ten pounds occasionally. R. at 611. Dr. Ball found Plaintiff could only stand and/or walk continuously for less than fifteen minutes, and could stand and/or walk a maximum of two hours in an eight-hour day. Id. With regard to Plaintiff's ability to sit, Dr. Ball stated Plaintiff was limited to sitting continuously for thirty minutes, and was limited to sitting a total of two hours in an eight-hour day. Id. Plaintiff's ability to push and/or pull was limited. Id. Dr. Ball determined Plaintiff should never climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, but could frequently balance, reach, handle, and finger. R. at 612. Plaintiff must also avoid certain environmental factors. Id.

         In March 2013, Dr. Ball executed a Medical Source Statement - Mental. R. at 759-60. Therein, Dr. Ball opined Plaintiff was moderately limited with regard to the ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; and (3) sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision. R. at 759. Dr. Ball also stated Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to (1) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; and (2) complete a normal workday without interruption from psychologically based symptoms. R. at 759-60.

         The ALJ assigned little weight to Dr. Ball's opinion pertaining to Plaintiff's physical and medical limitations because the evidence did not support the significant limitations set forth by Dr. Ball. R. at 28. With regard to the physical limitations set forth by Dr. Ball, the ALJ found Dr. Ball's opinion was inconsistent with Plaintiff's daily activities, the lack of significant treatment during the relevant time, and objective medical evidence. Id. With regard to the mental limitations set forth by Dr. Ball, the ALJ noted Dr. Ball was not a mental health specialist. Id. Additionally, the ALJ observed Dr. Ball occasionally prescribed medication to treat anxiety. Id. Further, Dr. Ball's notes do not reflect a mental health examination; they contain Plaintiff's subjective reports of some anxiety. Id. The ALJ also afforded little weight to Dr. Ball's opinion regarding Plaintiff's mental health limitations because his opinion ...

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