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Garamella v. Berryhill

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

July 16, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Michael Garamella's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416, 423 et seq. Garamella alleged disability due to arthritis pain, depression, degenerative disc disease, anxiety, panic attacks, sleep apnea, antisocial behavior, and bulging discs. (Tr. 186.) The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 9.]

         Garamella asserts that the administrative law judge (ALJ) erred in his evaluation of Garamella's credibility and in assigning little weight to the opinions of Garamella's treating providers. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed. The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the hearing transcript and the medical evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will reverse and remand the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)A), 423(d)(1)(A).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 726 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003).

         II. Discussion

         The ALJ found that Garamella had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis of the knees, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, type II diabetes mellitus, obesity, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia with panic. (Tr. 13.) The ALJ determined that Garamella had the residual functional capacity to perform light work with the following limitations: (1) never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; (2) occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; (3) never work at unprotected heights, with moving mechanical parts, be exposed to humidity/wetness, dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants, extreme cold and extreme heat. (Tr. 16-17.) The ALJ found Garamella can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements involving only simple, work-related decisions with only occasional work place changes. (Tr. 17.) He can only have occasional contact with supervisors and coworkers, but should never have contact with the general public. (Tr. 17.)

         A. Opinions of Treating Providers

         Garamella asserts that the ALJ erred because he gave little weight to his treating providers' opinions. Garamella's primary treating providers were board certified nurse practitioner Brook Strickland and licensed clinical social worker Nancy Phillips Kuelker.

Social Security separates information sources into two main groups: acceptable medical sources and other sources. It then divides other sources into two groups: medical sources and non-medical sources. Acceptable medical sources include licensed physicians (medical or osteopathic doctors) and licensed or certified psychologists. According to Social Security regulations, there are three major distinctions between acceptable medical sources and the others: (1) Only acceptable medical sources can provide evidence to establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment, (2) only acceptable medical sources can provide medical opinions, and (3) only acceptable medical sources can be considered treating sources,

Sloan v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 883, 888 (8th Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original) (internal citations omitted). Medical sources include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed clinical social workers, naturopaths, chiropractors, audiologists, and therapists.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(d)[1]. “Information from these other sources cannot establish the existence of a medically determinable impairment. Instead, there must be evidence from an “acceptable medical source” for this purpose.” SSR 06-03P, 2006 WL 2329939. The parties do not dispute the existence or type of Garamella's medically determinable impairments.

         “[I]nformation from such other sources, [however], may be based on special knowledge of the individual and may provide insight into the severity of the impairment(s) and how it affects the individual's ability to function. Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(d). “Evidence provided by ‘other sources' must be considered by the ALJ; however, the ALJ is permitted to discount such evidence if it is inconsistent with the evidence in the record.” Lawson v. Colvin, 807 F.3d 962, 967 (8th Cir. 2015); see also Raney v. Barnhart, 396 F.3d 1007, 1010 (8th Cir. 2005) (in determining what weight to give to other evidence, the ALJ has more discretion and is ...

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