United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying disability
benefits. The decision of the Commissioner is
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to determining if the decision
“complies with the relevant legal requirements and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d
979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)); see also 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is less
than a preponderance of the evidence, but is ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to
support the [Commissioner's] conclusion.'”
Grable v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir.
2014) (quoting Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966
(8th Cir. 2001)). In determining whether existing evidence is
substantial, the Court takes into account evidence that both
supports and detracts from the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) findings. Cline v. Colvin, 771
F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted).
“If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, [the Court] may not reverse even if substantial
evidence would support the opposite outcome or [the Court]
would have decided differently.” Smith v.
Colvin, 756 F.3d 621, 625 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis, 239 F.3d at 966). The Court does not re-weigh
the evidence presented to the ALJ. Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir.
2003)). The Court should “defer heavily to the findings
and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Hurd v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation
of overview, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the
following severe impairments: migraine headaches, depression,
and anxiety disorder. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff
has the following non-severe impairments: kidney stones and a
musculoskeletal impairment. However, the ALJ found that none
of Plaintiff's impairments, whether considered alone or
in combination, meet or medically equals the criteria of one
of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404. Subpt. P, App. 1
(“Listing”). Additionally, the ALJ found that
despite her limitations, Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels with non-exertional
limitations. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no
past relevant work experience, and that considering
Plaintiff's age, education, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform. The ALJ therefore found that Plaintiff
was not disabled.
appeal, Plaintiff presents the following arguments in support
of reversal: (1) whether the ALJ's RFC determination
regarding Plaintiff's mental and physical impairments are
supported by substantial evidence, and (2) whether the ALJ
sustained his burden at step five of the Social Security
Whether the ALJ's RFC Determination is Supported by
evidence exists to support the ALJ's RFC determination
regarding the Plaintiff's mental and physical
impairments. The Court will first address the RFC in relation
to the mental impairments and then address RFC in relation to
the physical impairments.
argues the ALJ erred in the weighing of Dr. McDaniel's,
one time examining psychologist; Dr. Lewis',
non-examining state agency physician; and Dr.
Vauginaux's, Plaintiff's treating psychologist,
evidence supports the ALJ's decision to give Dr.
McDaniel's opinion significant weight because Dr.
McDaniel's opinion was well-supported by the mental
status testing and consistent with the other medical evidence
of record. Plaintiff argues less weight should be given to
Dr. McDaniel's opinion because Dr. McDaniel examined
Plaintiff shortly after Plaintiff applied for disability
benefits and without the benefit of the entire record.
However, there is no indication any significant change in
circumstances occurred after his examination and during the
relevant period. Next, Plaintiff argues Dr. McDaniel's
opined GAF score of sixty should not be given significant
weight because GAF score are disfavored, and the ALJ acted
inconsistently in giving Dr. McDaniel's GAF score
significant weight while discounting other providers' GAF
scores. The ALJ gave little weight to Dr.
Parsell's and the social worker Cynthia Taylor's
scores of forty and thirty-four, respectively. The ALJ gave
little weight to these scores because the low GAF scores were
inconsistent with Plaintiff's treatment history and each
score was issued at the beginning of treatment with the
corresponding provider.The ALJ also notes the Plaintiff's
treatment records are more probative because the treatment
records demonstrate the Plaintiff's good response to
medications and Plaintiff's overall stability.
Accordingly, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
decision to give Dr. McDaniel's opinion significant
Plaintiff argues substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's consideration of Dr. Lewis' opinion. Plaintiff
cites Arn v. Astrue for the proposition that the ALJ
cannot rely on a state agency non-examining physician's
opinion when the opinion was issued long before the hearing
and not based on the full record, but Arn is
distinguishable from this case. Arn v. Astrue, 2011
WL 3876418 (W.D. Mo. Sept. 1, 2011). In Arn, the ALJ
relied heavily, and only, on the state agency non-examining
physician. Id. at 6. Here, the ALJ did not solely
rely on Dr. Lewis' opinion. Plaintiff next argues less
weight should be given to Dr. Lewis' opinion because he
examined Plaintiff shortly after Plaintiff applied for
disability benefits and without the entire record; however,
there is no indication that any significant change in
circumstances occurred after this examination and during the
relevant period. Further, the ALJ did not give Dr. Lewis'
opinion weight as a medical opinion. Accordingly, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's consideration of Dr.
Court is unable to determine if substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's decision to afford treating psychologist Dr.
Vauginaux's opinion no weight. The ALJ may discount a
treating psychologist's opinion when (1) a non-examining
opinion is supported by superior medical evidence or (2) if
the treating physician offered an opinion inconsistent with
the treating physician's own treatment notes. Hogan
v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2001). The ALJ
contends Dr. Vauginaux's opinion is inconsistent with his
own treatment notes, thus it was proper to discount Dr.
Vauginaux's opinion. The Defendant cites to a
provider's note that Plaintiff was able to go on a
camping trip for one week without a panic attack.
Specifically, Plaintiff did not have a panic attack on the
trip beginning on 8/13/2015 and ending on 8/20/2015. However,
shortly after the camping trip, Plaintiff had two panic
attacks. The Court finds the above evidence insufficient to
determine if Dr. Vauginaux's treatment notes are