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Williams v. Berryhill

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

May 23, 2018

PAMELA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE.

         This action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Pamela William's applications for disability insurance benefits and disabled widow's benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, but she retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform past relevant work as a bindery room hand collator.

         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.

         Plaintiff filed her applications on April 14, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2011. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on February 12, 2016, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 6, 2017, 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) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         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. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is 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 the ALJ erred at Step Four by: (1) making an RFC determination that is not supported by substantial evidence and (2) improperly discounting her credibility. Both arguments are without merit.

         1. Substantial evidence supports the RFC determination.

         Plaintiff contends the ALJ's RFC determination is improper because it failed to account for her alleged need to take frequent bathroom breaks or be stationed near a bathroom. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have incorporated a limitation on her RFC stemming from a consulting physician's report that “[s]he would likely need employment where she would be able to use bathroom more frequently or be near a bathroom, ” R. at 534, particularly since the ALJ gave the doctor's opinions “substantial weight.” R. at 27. Plaintiff also argues such restriction is consistent with her hearing testimony that she needed to go to the bathroom five to ten times per day for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. R. at 58-49.

         It is the claimant's burden to prove his RFC, not the Commissioner's. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). In making this determination, the ALJ considers a host of factors, including the claimant's medical history, medical signs and laboratory findings, effects of treatment, reports of daily activities, lay evidence, recorded observations, medical source statements, effects of symptoms, and attempts to work. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5 (July 2, 1996). “A claimant's RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence.” McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added).

         Read in context of the doctor's entire report, Plaintiff's argument that the ALJ should have incorporated a limitation relating to her bathroom use is not persuasive. The examining physician, ...


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