United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
TERRI L. BOWEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER 
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
L. Bowen (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the
decision of the Social Security Administration denying her
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income from her alleged onset date of
November 1, 2011 until July 29, 2014. Because the Court finds that
substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits
for the period in question, the Court affirms the denial of
Background and Procedural History
February 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income alleging
she was disabled as of November 1, 2011 as a result of:
arthritis, “chronic pain throughout body, ” right
arm numbness, “hips give out, ” asthma, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”).
(Tr. 413-24). In May 2014, an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) conducted a hearing and, on August 20,
2014, entered a decision denying Plaintiff's applications
for benefits. (Tr. 134-54). On July 29, 2014, between
the dates of Plaintiff's hearing and the ALJ's
decision, Plaintiff underwent a mammogram and subsequently
received a diagnosis of invasive ductal breast cancer. (Tr.
appealed the ALJ's decision and submitted new evidence of
breast cancer. (Tr. 294-98). The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) Appeals Council vacated
the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to a different
ALJ for additional proceedings. (Tr. 155-57). In the remand
order, the SSA Appeals Council directed the ALJ, in relevant
part, to: “Give further consideration to the
claimant's maximum residual functional capacity and
provide appropriate rationale with specific references to
evidence of record in support of the assessed limitations (20
CFR 404.1545 and 416.945 and Social Security Ruling
96-8p).” (Id. at 157).
to the remand order, the ALJ conducted a hearing on August
25, 2015. (Tr. 33-68). An impartial medical expert, Dr. Lee
Fischer, Plaintiff, and a vocational expert testified at the
hearing. Id. In a partially favorable decision dated
October 14, 2015, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation
set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and
416.920 and concluded: “[Plaintiff] was not
disabled prior to July 29, 2014[, the date of her breast
cancer diagnosis, ] but became disabled on that date and has
continued to be disabled through the date of this
decision[.]” (Tr. 20) (citations to regulations
found that, since the alleged onset date of disability
(November 1, 2011), Plaintiff had the severe impairments of:
osteoarthritis, right shoulder impingement, COPD, and mild
degenerative disc disease; and the non-severe impairments of
hypertension, headaches, obesity, and hyperactive bladder.
(Tr. 13). After reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and
medical records and finding that Plaintiff was “not
entirely credible, ” the ALJ found that, between
November 1, 2011 and July 29, 2014, Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work with specified limitations. (Tr. 14). The ALJ
further determined that, since November 1, 2011, Plaintiff
was unable to perform any past relevant work, but, for the
period between November 1, 2011 and July 29, 2014, there
existed a significant number of jobs in the national economy
that she was capable of performing. (Tr. 18).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on January 12, 2016.
(Tr. 1-5) Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the SSA's
final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07
Standard of Review
must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence ‘is less than a
preponderance, but enough so that a reasonable mind might
find it adequate to support the conclusion.'”
Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996)
(quoting Oberst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th
Cir. 1993)). In determining whether the evidence is
substantial, a court considers evidence that both supports
and detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir.
2009). However, a court “do[es] not reweigh the
evidence presented to the ALJ and [it] defer[s] to the
ALJ's determinations regarding the credibility of
testimony, as long as those determinations are supported by
good reason and substantial evidence.” Renstrom v.
Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Gonzales v.
Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir. 2006)).
after reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to
draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of
those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court
must affirm the ALJ's decision.” Partee v.
Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir.
2005)). The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that a court
should “defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions” of the Social Security Administration.
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010);
Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's
determination that she was not disabled from November 1, 2011
through July 29, 2014. (ECF No. 18). Plaintiff contends that
the ALJ erred in failing to: (1) comply with the SSA Appeals
Council's remand order; and (2) accord “any weight
to the lay evidence of onset.” (Id. at 8-15).
In response, Defendant asserts that: (1) the ALJ complied
with each of the SSA Appeals Council's directives; (2)
substantial evidence supported the ALJ's RFC finding; and
(3) the ALJ properly evaluated the third-party statements of
record. (ECF No. 25).
Failure to comply with remand order
contends that the ALJ did not comply with the SSA Appeals
Council's order to “give further consideration to
the Plaintiff's maximum functional capacity and provide
appropriate rationale with specific references to evidence of
record in support of the assessed limitations.” (ECF
No. 18 at 8-12). Although couched in terms of a failure to
comply with the remand order, Plaintiff, in fact, argues
that, in formulating her RFC, the ALJ failed to: (1)
adequately address Plaintiff's COPD and pain in her
shoulder, neck, and back; and (2) assign proper weight to the
opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. Id.
Defendant counters that the ALJ complied with the remand
order in that he re-examined the entire medical record and
cited the clinical findings and medical opinions that
supported his RFC finding. (ECF No. 25 at 7). Defendant
further asserts that the ALJ: (1) accounted for
Plaintiff's COPD and musculoskeletal pain by limiting her
to sedentary work; and (2) properly assigned reduced weight
to the treating physician's opinion because it was
inconsistent with the evidence as a whole. (Id. at
“the most [a claimant] can still do despite” his
or her physical or mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). See also Masterson v.
Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir. 2004). “The
ALJ should determine a claimant's RFC based on all
relevant evidence including the medical records, observations
of treating physicians and others, and an individual's
own description of his limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 887
(8th Cir. 2006)). The claimant bears the burden of
“persuasion to prove disability and ...