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Thibodeaux v. Berryhill

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

May 12, 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 her 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 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 1959, and completed the eleventh grade in high school. R. at 24, 37, 303, 305, 327. Plaintiff previously worked as a certified nurse's aide, and a supervisor for a residential facility. R. at 39-43. In 2013, Plaintiff applied for disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of December 30, 2012. R. at 13, 303-10. Plaintiff's applications were denied, and she requested a hearing. R. at 249-53, 256-57. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) in July 2014. R. at 31-72. On November 5, 2014, the ALJ issued her decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 13-25. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her appeal. R. at 1-3.

         In reaching her decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the spine, osteoarthritis of the knees with degenerative changes in the left knee, obesity, and depression. R. at 15. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[P]erform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except that the claimant can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can frequently balance, handle, and finger. She must avoid concentrated exposure to cold, vibrations, and hazards. The claimant requires a sit/stand option hourly for a positional change not to exceed two minutes. The claimant is limited to simple routine work and simple instructions.

R. at 17. Based upon the RFC and the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a laundry worker or cleaner. R. at 23-24. Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's decision to this Court.


         Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because (1) the ALJ failed to afford adequate weight to Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion, and (2) the ALJ failed to support the RFC with substantial evidence in the absence of the treating physician's opinion.

         A. Treating Physician's Opinion

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in affording little weight to the opinion of her treating physician, Saima Jabeen, M.D. 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 April 2014, Dr. Jabeen executed a Medical Source Statement (“MSS”). R. at 571-72. Dr. Jabeen opined Plaintiff can frequently lift and carry less than ten pounds; stand and/or walk continuously for less than fifteen minutes with a walker; stand and/or walk less than one hour total during an eight-hour workday; sit continuously for fifteen minutes at a time; sit less than one hour total during an eight-hour workday; is limited in her ability to push and/or pull; should never climb, stoop, or crawl; can only occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, reach, handle, finger, feel, see, speak, and hear; must avoid any exposure to extreme cold and heights; must avoid moderate exposure to extreme heat, weather, wetness/humidity, dust/fumes, vibration, and hazards; would need to lie down or recline every one to two hours; and has ...

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