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Myers v. Berryhill

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

August 22, 2017

REBECCA MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1963, and has a high school education and a home healthcare certificate. R. at 34, 170. She previously worked as a cashier, convenience-store manager, and home health aide. R. at 24, 36, 46-47, 176. Plaintiff applied for disability and disability insurance benefits as well as supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 2013. R. at 14. Plaintiff's applications were denied, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). R. at 9-10, 81-85. A hearing was held in August 2015. R. at 30-60. In September 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 14-25.

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes, and cardiomyopathy. R. at 17. The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) in that the claimant can lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for 2 hours out of an 8 hour work day for 30 minutes at a time; sit for up to 6 hours out of an 8 hour work day with normal breaks; and push and pull the same weights; can occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can frequently balance and reach in all directions; and should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and workplace hazards, such as unprotected heights and hazardous machinery.

R. at 18. At the hearing, the ALJ proposed two hypotheticals to a Vocational Expert (“VE”) that were consistent with this RFC. R. at 51, 55. Based upon the RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff could work as a motel clerk and gas station attendant. R. at 25. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her appeal. R. at 1-4. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because (1) the ALJ's hypothetical was not supported by substantial evidence in that the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for giving little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion, and (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility.

         A. Dr. Longnecker's Opinion

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for giving little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Christopher Longnecker. 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 “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.

         Dr. Longnecker treated Plaintiff on five separate occasions. R. at 244, 247, 301, 365, 369. In January 2014, Dr. Longnecker performed a cardiac catheterization and an echocardiogram. R. at 244-48. At that time, Plaintiff was limited to activities consistent with “post heart catheterization precautions” including not lifting items greater than fifteen pounds for one week, remaining sedentary for two to three days, and “refraining from putting a 90 degree bend in the groin area” for two to three days. R. at 260. In February 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Longnecker and “deni[ed] any current problems during [the] ...


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