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Plummer v. Berryhill

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

March 17, 2017

CANDIE PLUMMER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         This action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Candie Plummer's applications for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381- 1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had several severe impairments but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a toy assembler, small products assembler, and office helper.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed her applications on November 29, 2012, and she alleges a disability onset date of August 10, 2012. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on December 19, 2014, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 22, 2016, leaving the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

         A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is 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. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Discussion

         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 argues the ALJ erred at Step Four by: (1) failing to adopt a functional limitation suggested by a one-time examining psychologist, Dr. Steven Adams, Psy. D. (“Dr. Adams”), or at least provide a clear rationale why he did not adopt this functional limitation; and (2) failing to order a consultative psychological examination recommended by Dr. Adams.

         Both arguments are unavailing.

         I. The ALJ did not err by not adopting the functional limitation suggested by Dr. Adams, and the decision provides an adequate rationale.

         Dr. Adams is a licensed clinical psychologist and consultative examiner who evaluated Plaintiff on March 5, 2014. Dr. Adams made several findings about Plaintiff's functional capacity which the ALJ incorporated into his RFC determination, including that Plaintiff was limited in her ability to understand complex instructions and was not able to interact in moderately demanding social situations. R. at 15-16, 506-07. The ALJ, however, did not fully embrace Dr. Adams' final observation, which was that Plaintiff “does not seem able to adapt to a typical work environment.” R. at 507. Instead, the ALJ found Plaintiff “is unable to respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting that involves complex instructions and tasks.” R. at 16 (emphasis added). Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by not finding she is “unable to adopt to changes in a typical work environment that involve simple tasks” and incorporating this finding into his question to the vocational expert. Pl.'s Br. 21 (Doc. 7).

         As a threshold matter, the Court does not see how Dr. Adams' observation justifies an RFC limitation that Plaintiff is “unable to adopt to changes in a typical work environment that involve simple tasks.” Dr. Adams questioned Plaintiff's ability to adapt to a typical work environment; he did not find her ...


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