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Gwin v. Berryhill

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

August 9, 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 Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. For the following reasons, 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 1964, and is a high school graduate. R. at 25, 58, 114, 117, 403. He previously worked as a fence erector, truck foreman, and electrical technician. R. at 24, 62-67, 117, 119. In 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of November 17, 2009. R. at 403-04. His onset date was later amended to May 28, 2010. R. at 13, 112-14. Plaintiff's application and requests for reconsideration were denied, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. at 188-99. A hearing was held in January 2013. R. at 107-52. In March 2013, ALJ Cynthia Hale issued her decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 166-77.

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council remanded the matter because the jobs identified by the ALJ were not compatible with Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 185. The ALJ was also directed to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert (“VE”) to “clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base.” R. at 186. The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to “resolve any conflict between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.” Id.

         Upon remand, ALJ Mark Clayton held a hearing in July 2015. R. at 45-106. On November 11, 2015, he issued his decision, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 13-26. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine and lumbar spine, right median nerve neuropathy, and depression. R. at 16. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following RFC:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he was unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He could frequently reach overhead bilaterally. He could frequently handle and finger with the right, upper extremity. He would need to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as working around unprotected heights and dangerous, moving machinery. He is limited to performing simple, routine, no more than SVP 2-type tasks.

R. at 19. Based upon the RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a copy machine operator and bakery line worker. R. at 25-26. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied his appeal. R. at 1-4. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.


         Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because (1) the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical opinion evidence, (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his credibility, and (3) the ALJ relied on flawed testimony from the VE.

         A. Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in affording “little weight” to the opinion of his treating physician, James Hardigan, D.O. 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). The ALJ must ...

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