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Greninger v. Berryhill

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

March 22, 2018

TIMOTHY GRENINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Timothy Greninger (“Greninger”) petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Greninger applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Greninger's symptoms did not prevent him from performing jobs in the national economy.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is 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.

         Greninger filed his application on December 6, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2012. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Greninger appealed the denial to an ALJ. After a hearing, the ALJ denied Greninger's claim on January 5, 2016, finding that he was not disabled under the Act. The Appeals Council denied Greninger's request for review on December 12, 2016. Greninger has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Standard of Review

         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).

         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. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). 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. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

         Discussion

         Greninger argues that the ALJ erred at step four by: 1) improperly evaluating his subjective complaints, and 2) improperly evaluating the opinion of his treating physician. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds these arguments are without merit.

         I. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of Greninger's subjective complaints.

         Greninger argues that the ALJ's credibility determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. It is well-settled that “[t]he credibility of a claimant's subjective testimony is primarily for the ALJ to decide, not the courts.” Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 731 (8th Cir. 2016); Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1042 (8th Cir. 2007) (“This court will not substitute its opinion for the ALJ's, who is in a better position to gauge credibility and resolve conflicts in the evidence.”).

         Here, the ALJ did not find fully credible Greninger's testimony concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms. Greninger said that his depression affected his memory, ability to concentrate, and ability to focus. The ALJ recognized that Greninger had a history of treatment for depression, but cited medical evidence in the record indicating his functional limitations were not as drastic as Greninger claimed. R. at 31. For example, Greninger's treatment records indicate that he was responsive to prescription medication for his depression. R. at 31, 384-86; see Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005) (“Evidence of effective medication resulting in relief, for example, may diminish the credibility of a claimant's complaints.”). By January 2013, Greninger told his treating physician, Dr. Jeffrey Wool, M.D., that his anxiety and depression were stable and that he was a “new man.” R. at 31, 383. The ALJ noted that Dr. Wool's treatment records indicated that Greiniger's depression and anxiety remained mostly stable, and no adjustments were made to his medications. R. at 31, 368-70, 375, 381; see Lawson v. Colvin, 807 F.3d 962, 965 (8th Cir. 2015) (affirming ALJ's denial of benefits where doctor's treatments “indicate [claimant's] mental ...


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