United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
DOROTHY D. STUDER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security's (“the Commissioner”)
decision denying Plaintiff Dorothy Studer's application
for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42
U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of
a brain tumor (post-surgery), headaches, obesity, and
depression, but she retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform work as a cashier,
sub-assembler, and small parts production assembler.
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.
and Factual Background
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
filed her application for disability insurance benefits on
January 6, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of December
23, 2009. The Commissioner denied the application at the
initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an
ALJ. An ALJ held a hearing and found Plaintiff was not
disabled on October 24, 2012. The Appeals Council then
remanded the decision for a new hearing.
a new hearing, a different ALJ also concluded Plaintiff was
not disabled on February 25, 2015. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on January 8, 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).
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).
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process 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 makes five claims here. She contends
the ALJ erred at Step Four because he: (1) failed to obtain
additional medical opinion evidence from an examining or
treating physician to properly determine her RFC; (2) failed
to consider her obesity in combination with her other
impairments; and (3) gave weight to a non-examining medical
expert who testified at the hearing. She also argues (4) the
ALJ erred at Step Five in relying on the vocational
expert's (“VE”) testimony that she could work
as a cashier. Finally, she contends (5) the Appeals Council
erred by not discussing new evidence submitted after the ALJ
rendered his decision.
arguments are all without merit.
The ALJ properly supported the RFC determination.
argues that because the ALJ rejected the opinions from two of
her treating physicians, Dr. Brent Peterson, M.D., and Dr.
Darren Lovick, M.D., he insufficiently developed the record.
She contends that by rejecting their opinions, the ALJ
triggered a duty to re-contact the doctors ...