United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff Tony Dickens
(“Plaintiff”)'s appeal of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”)'s final
decision denying his application for Social Security
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. For
the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is
REVERSED and this case is REMANDED to the Commissioner.
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to determining if the decision
“complies with the relevant legal requirements and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d
979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance of the evidence, but is ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to support
the [Commissioner's] conclusion.'” Grable
v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)).
In determining whether existing evidence is substantial, the
Court takes into account evidence that both supports and
detracts from the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) findings. Cline v. Colvin, 771
F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted).
“If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, [the Court] may not reverse even if substantial
evidence would support the opposite outcome or [the Court]
would have decided differently.” Smith v.
Colvin, 756 F.3d 621, 625 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis, 239 F.3d at 966). The Court does not re-weigh
the evidence presented to the ALJ. Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir.
2003)). The Court should “defer heavily to the findings
and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Hurd v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation
of overview, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, sleep apnea,
morbid obesity, and adjustment disorder with depression and
anxiety. However, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's
impairments, whether considered alone or in combination, meet
or medically equals the criteria of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Despite
Plaintiff's impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform less than a full range of sedentary work with
several exceptions and limitations. The ALJ found Plaintiff
incapable of performing past relevant work as a recruiter or
corpsman but found that there were jobs in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform,
such as a call out operator, document preparer, and touchup
screener. Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not
disabled, as defined in the Act, from June 1, 2013, through
the date of the ALJ's decision.
appeal, Plaintiff alleges errors related to (1) whether the
ALJ properly discounted Plaintiff's credibility, (2)
whether the ALJ properly weighed medical opinion evidence,
(3) whether the ALJ relied on flawed vocational expert
testimony, and (4) whether the ALJ considered and weighed the
disability finding from the Department of Veterans Affairs
(“VA”) that found Mr. Dickens is entitled to
disability benefits. Because the Court finds that the ALJ
erred by failing to comply with the obligation to discuss and
weigh the VA disability determination, the decision is
reversed and remanded.
Morrison v. Apfel, the Eighth Circuit held that the
ALJ erred in failing to address a disability determination
from the VA. 146 F.3d 625, 628 (8th Cir. 1998). There, the
It is true that the ALJ does not have to discuss every piece
of evidence presented.
. . . It is also true that a disability determination by the
VA is not binding on an ALJ considering a Social Security
applicant's claim for disability benefits. We think,
however, that the VA finding was important enough to deserve
explicit attention. We agree with other courts that findings
of disability by other federal agencies, even though they are
not binding on an ALJ, are entitled to some weight and must
be considered in the ALJ's decision.
Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Although Morrison held that an ALJ should state his
or her reasons for rejecting the VA's disability
determination, the Eighth Circuit has since held that proper
consideration is given to a VA disability determination if
the ALJ considers and discusses the underlying medical
evidence that supported the VA's disability
v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 580 (8th Cir.
the only comment in the ALJ's decision regarding the
VA's disability determination was in conjunction with the
discussion regarding Plaintiff's income. The ALJ noted
“[Plaintiff] retired with a VA disability
pension.” Thus, it is unclear what consideration, if
any, the ALJ gave to the VA's disability determination.
The ALJ's failure to discuss the records underlying the
VA's disability determination, coupled with the ALJ's