United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division
SARAH F. RIFENBURG, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE
Sarah Rifenburg petitions for review of an adverse decision
by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff
had multiple severe impairments, including obesity, lumbar
spine degenerative disc disease, lumbar spine peripheral
neuropathy, degenerative arthritis of the bilateral knees,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and thyroid disease,
but retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work as a
tourist information assistant.
explained below, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.
The Commissioner's decision is therefore AFFIRMED.
and Factual Background
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
filed the pending applications on July 8, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of May 1, 2010. The Commissioner denied
the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff
appealed the denial to an ALJ. On October 16, 2014, the ALJ
held a hearing and on March 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March
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).
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. Andrews v.
Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015). Substantial
evidence is less than a preponderance, but 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. §
argues the ALJ erred by discounting: (1) the opinion of a
nurse practitioner; and (2) Plaintiff's credibility. Due
to these alleged errors, Plaintiff asserts the ALJ's RFC
finding was not supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ did not err in discounting the opinion of a nurse
Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in discounting the opinion of
nurse practitioner Stephanie Voorhis, NPC (“Ms.
Voorhis”) and, as a result, the ALJ's RFC findings
were not supported by substantial evidence.
establish a disability or impairment, the Social Security
Administration requires ‘evidence from acceptable
medical sources.'” Crawford v. Colvin, 809
F.3d 404, 408 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
416.913(a)). The list of acceptable medical sources includes
licensed physicians, psychologists, and optometrists. 20
C.F.R. § 416.913(a). In addition to these acceptable
medical sources, an ALJ may consider evidence from other
sources, including nurse practitioners and social welfare
agency personnel. Id. §§ 416.913(d)(1),
(d)(3). An ALJ has ...