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Wheeler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

May 2, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting 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. 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 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 1965. R. at 28, 113, 320, 351. He has a high school education and some vocational training. R. at 30, 320, 352. Plaintiff previously worked as a laborer and landscaper. R. at 31, 352-53. He applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June 30, 2010. R. at 113-14. Plaintiff's application was denied, and he requested a hearing. On May 30, 2012, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. at 24-50. On June 25, 2012, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 13-20. Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council, and his appeal was denied. R. at 1-3. Plaintiff then appealed to this Court. Case No. 13-6120-CV-SJ-ODS.

         In August 2014, this Court remanded the matter for further proceedings. R. at 418-20. The Court noted there was “a glaring paucity of medical evidence to support” the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 418. The Court directed the ALJ to obtain additional information from Plaintiff's doctors, and conduct a new credibility assessment. Id. at 2. Upon remand, the Appeals Council vacated the prior ALJ's decision, and directed the ALJ to consolidate Plaintiff's claims files, create a single electronic record, and issue a new decision on the consolidated claim. R. at 424.

         In August 2015, another hearing was held, during which Plaintiff testified. R. at 347-67. A supplemental hearing was held in January 2016, to obtain medical expert testimony. R. at 329-46. The ALJ issued a decision in May 2016, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 301-21. In reaching her decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, right shoulder rotator cuff repair in December 2014, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and learning disorder/unspecified intellectual disability. R. at 303-04. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the RFC to “perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he cannot reach overhead but can frequently reach in other directions.” R. at 308. Plaintiff can frequently handle, finger, and feel. Id. He can frequently climb ladders and stairs, but can only occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Id. Plaintiff can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id. at 308-09. He can frequently tolerate wetness and pulmonary irritants, but can only occasionally tolerate unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. Id. at 309. Plaintiff “can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks requiring no independent decision making or changes in the work setting.” Id. He can occasionally interact with coworkers but cannot interact with the public. Id. Plaintiff would be off task for up to five percent of the workday. Id. Based upon the RFC and the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a collator operator, inserting machine operator, and router. R. at 321. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to this Court.


         Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because the ALJ's RFC did not adequately reflect Wheeler's limitations in that the ALJ (1) did not properly weigh the medical opinions, and (2) erred in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility. One's RFC is the “most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ must base the RFC on “all of the relevant evidence, including the medical records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual's own description of his limitations.” McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000).

         (A) Medical Opinions

         According to Plaintiff, the three medical opinions in the record contain more severe limitations than the ALJ's RFC. Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing provide adequate reasons for discounting these medical opinions. Plaintiff also contends the ALJ's RFC is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to adequately evaluate the medical evidence. Doc. #9, at 17.

         (1) Louis Bein, M.S.

         Plaintiff attended two consultative psychological evaluations with Louis Bein, M.S. In January 2015, after the initial consultative evaluation, Bein completed a Medical Source Statement - Mental (“MSSM”), and opined Plaintiff had moderate limitation relating to complex instructions, mild limitation in social functioning, and moderate limitation in the ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. R. at 318, 763-65. In September 2015, Bein completed another MSSM, and opined Plaintiff had marked limitations in carrying out complex instructions and making judgments on complex work related decisions, and moderate limitations in all other areas except mild limitation in interacting appropriately with the public. R. at 318, 856-59. Bein also administered an intelligence quotient (“IQ”) test, wherein he concluded Plaintiff's full scale IQ was 52. R. at 854, 858. Bein opined Plaintiff's test performance was below expectations given his “social presentation, presentation, vocabulary, ...

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