United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Debra Knight seeks review of the decision of the Social
Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act. Because the Court finds that
substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits,
the Court affirms the denial of Plaintiff's application.
Background and Procedural History
October 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits alleging she was disabled as of March 31,
2007, her alleged onset date of disability and her date last
insured for purposes of Disability Insurance
Benefits. Plaintiff, born on January 3, 1956,
claimed she was disabled as a result of: fibromyalgia;
“severe widespread muscle pain, tenderness, &
weakness”; chronic fatigue syndrome; depression,
malaise, and anxiety; significant short-term memory loss;
difficulty concentrating and focusing; osteoarthritis;
“residuals of past back injury”; neck pain and
immobility; and sleep apnea. (Tr. 195). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and she
filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 29).
conducted a hearing in February 2012 and, on May 25, 2012,
the ALJ entered a decision denying Plaintiff's
application for benefits. (Tr. 10-25, 639-75). After the SSA
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
she appealed to the United States District Court. (Tr.
614-33). The court found that the ALJ erred in finding that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work because the ALJ:
(1) improperly discounted the opinion of Plaintiff's
treating physician; and (2) failed to support the RFC
determination with citation to any medical evidence.
Knight v. Colvin, Case No. 4:13-CV-1191 CEJ, 2014 WL
4352061, at *10 (E.D.Mo. Sept. 2, 2014). The district court
reversed the Commissioner's denial of benefits and
remanded for further proceedings with directions to
“consider whether to obtain the opinion of a
consultative examiner to determine whether plaintiff was able
to maintain substantial gainful employment on March 31,
to the district court's remand order, the SSA Appeals
Council vacated the Commissioner's final decision and
remanded the case to the ALJ, who conducted a second hearing
on January 29, 2015. (Tr. 537-84, 636). At the hearing, the
ALJ heard the testimony of: medical expert, Dr. Anne Winkler,
M.D., Ph.D., a specialist in internal medicine and
rheumatology; Plaintiff; and a vocational expert. (Tr.
537-84). In a decision dated July 10, 2015, the ALJ applied
the five-step evaluation set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 and again determined that Plaintiff
“was not under a disability within the meaning of the
Social Security Act on March 31, 2007, the claimant's
alleged onset date of disability and her date last
insured[.]” (Tr. 462).
found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had: the
severe impairments of fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and mild
osteoarthritis of the right knee; and the non-severe
impairments of mild mitral insufficiency and irritable bowel
syndrome. (Tr. 464). After reviewing the medical opinion
evidence, medical records, and testimony and finding that
Plaintiff was “not entirely credible, ” the ALJ
determined that, through March 31, 2007, Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform light work:
except the claimant should never climb ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds but was able to occasionally climb ramps and
stairs. She was able to frequently balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. The claimant should have avoided
concentrated exposure to cold, wetness and humidity, and all
exposure to unprotected heights.
(Tr. 465). The ALJ further determined that, through March 31,
2007, Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work but
there existed a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 470).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on January 15, 2016.
(Tr. 454-57). 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 Boerst 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.” Renstrue v.
Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir.
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 that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's determination that she was not disabled on March
31, 2007, Plaintiff's alleged onset date of disability
and date last insured. More specifically, Plaintiff contends the
ALJ erred in discrediting the opinion of her treating
physician and assigning great weight to that of a consulting
physician. (ECF No. 9). Additionally, Plaintiff argues that
the vocational expert's testimony at step five of the
sequential evaluation process did not constitute substantial
evidence because it was based upon an incorrect RFC.
(Id.). Defendant counters that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's RFC assessment because: (1) the ALJ
properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence; (2) the
ALJ's hypothetical question accurately reflected
Plaintiff's limitations; and (3) the ALJ properly
evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (ECF No. 17).