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Haddan v. Berryhill

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

August 28, 2017

WILLIAM HADDAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiff William Haddan 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 opiate-induced hyperalgesia, degenerative disc disease with small disc protrusion, sciatica, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a document preparer or addresser.

         As 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.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed the pending application on August 23, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of December 15, 2011. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. On December 11, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing and on May 20, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 1, 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).

         Standard of Review

         A 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).

         Discussion

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] 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. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly discounting the opinion of a consulting examiner and failing to base his RFC on substantial evidence; and (2) finding Plaintiff's subjective complaints not wholly credible. These arguments are without merit.

         I. Plaintiff's RFC was based on substantial evidence on the record as a whole.

         Plaintiff first argues that, because the ALJ discounted the opinion of Dr. Joshua Smith, D.O. (“Dr. Smith”), his RFC was not based on substantial evidence.

         A claimant's RFC is the most she can still do despite her physical or mental limitations. Leckenby v. Astrue, 487 F.3d 626, 631 n.5 (8th Cir. 2007). In formulating a claimant's RFC, the ALJ must consider all the relevant, credible record evidence, including a claimant's medical records, observations from treating and examining physicians, and a claimant's subjective statements. See Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th Cir. 2007). “Although an ALJ is not required to rely solely upon medical evidence in formulating a claimant's RFC, there must be some underlying his assessment.” Id. (citing Hutsell v. Massanari, 259 F.3d 707, 712 (8th Cir. 2001)). An ALJ may discount medical evidence where it is inconsistent with the medical evidence as a whole and relies on the incredible subjective complaints of a claimant. See Burrell v. Berryhill, No. 1:15CV190RLW, 2017 WL 1058137, at *8-9 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 20, 2017) (discounting treating physician's opinion where it was inconsistent with the treatment record and relied on claimant's subjective complaints) (citing Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 615-16 (8th Cir. 2011) (discounting treating physicians' opinions where the form cited no clinical test results, treatment notes were inconsistent with ...


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