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Golay v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

July 6, 2018

ROBIN S. GOLAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Robin Golay seeks review of the decision of the Deputy Commissioner of Operations of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.[1] Because the Court finds that remand is required for further consideration of the treating psychiatrist's opinion, the Court reverses the denial of Plaintiff's applications and remands the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff, who was born on April 27, 1968, filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income alleging she was disabled as of September 1, 2012 as a result of: fatigue, obesity, scoliosis, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, sleep apnea, depression, and learning disability. (Tr. 125-26, 243-251, 252-56). 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. 125-35, 136-46, 159).

         The SSA granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ conducted a hearing in October 2014. (Tr. 52-103). At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was forty-six years old, 4' 8” tall, and 205 lbs. (Tr. 56, 58). Plaintiff attended special education classes from first through twelfth grade and obtained a high school diploma. (Tr. 61). In regard to her mental health, Plaintiff testified that she had been seeing Dr. Goldman, a psychiatrist, for about two years, and also saw a counselor once every two weeks. (Tr. 72-3). Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Goldman because she was: “Getting mad at everything and everybody, throwing things, depressed all the time, couldn't stand to be out in public with everybody, couldn't get along with anybody.” (Tr. 73).

         Plaintiff testified that she experienced crying spells “two or three times a day, ” during which she generally cried “[a]bout half an hour.” ((Tr. 74). Plaintiff also experienced “two or three” panic attacks per day, when her heart “feels like it's going to come out of my chest. I get real dizzy” and her breathing “increases.” (Tr. 75). Plaintiff stated her panic attacks generally lasted five to ten minutes. (Tr. 75). She was currently taking lorazepam for anxiety. (Id.). Plaintiff testified that she rarely left her house and spent most of her day on the couch. (Tr. 76-77). Plaintiff had suicidal thoughts and had made one suicide attempt. (Tr. 74).

         Plaintiff stated that she had difficulty getting along with people at her last job at a senior citizen center. (Id.). Plaintiff explained, “[W]hen I was mad at [my boss], I'd throw dishes and stuff.” (Id.). Plaintiff also raised her voice and “use[d] language [she] shouldn't use.” (Tr. 74). Toward the end of her job at the senior center, Plaintiff missed “two, maybe three days a month” because “[m]y arthritis was flaring up, and my boss was getting to me.” (Tr. 78).

         In a decision dated November 18, 2014, the ALJ applied the five-step evaluation set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 and found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, mild COPD, and depression, and the nonsevere impairment of gastritis. (Tr. 11).

         After reviewing the testimony, medical records and third-party function reports, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, ” but her statements “concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible[.]” (Tr. 15). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with the following nonexertional limitations: “She can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions consistent with unskilled work. She can tolerate occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors, but no contact with the general public.”[2] (Tr. 13-14). Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work but, considering her “age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that claimant can perform[.]” (Tr. 19).

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the SSA Appeals Council, which denied review. (Tr. 1-4, 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 (2000).

         II. Standard of Review

         A court 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.” Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 890, 894 (8th Cir. 2006)).

         “If, 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. 2001).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred in: (1) failing to assign the opinion of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. David Goldman, controlling weight; and (2) assessing an RFC that was not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 18). Defendant counters that the ALJ properly: (1) discredited Dr. Goldman's highly restrictive opinions because they were inconsistent with his treatment notes and the record as a whole; and (2) properly formulated Plaintiff's RFC.[3] (ECF No. 23).

         A. Treating physician opinion

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of Dr. Goldman, Plaintiff's long-term treating psychiatrist. Plaintiff further contends that the ALJ failed to provide “good reasons” for assigning Dr. Goldman's opinion less than controlling weight, as required by the SSA regulations. In response, Defendant asserts that the ALJ properly ...

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