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Mink v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division

July 19, 2018

SONDRA JEAN MINK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sondra Mink (“Plaintiff”) petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of chronic pain syndrome/fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), bipolar disorder, and obesity, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as a photocopy-machine operator, shipping weigher, and marking clerk.

         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 application on June 17, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of February 7, 2013. Plaintiff's date last insured was September 30, 2013, therefore, she had to demonstrate disability on or before that date. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on June 6, 2016, found Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         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. Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015). 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. 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, and 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 in a myriad of ways: (1) failing to assess the RFC on a function-by-function basis and by assessing the exertional level first; (2) failing to incorporate limitations stemming from Plaintiff's obesity; (3) identifying limitations due to Plaintiff's severe physical impairments without a medical opinion; (4) identifying limitations stemming from Plaintiff's mental impairments without substantial evidence; (5) failing to resolve alleged conflicts between the Vocational Expert's (“VE”) testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”); (6) finding that Plaintiff's activities of daily living are inconsistent with disability; and (7) failing to mention two third-party statements in her decision. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds these arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ did not err in formulating the RFC.

         A. The ALJ assessed the RFC on a function-by-function basis.

         Plaintiff first argues the ALJ failed to assess the RFC on a function-by-function basis and erroneously assessed the exertional level first. In her opinion, the ALJ noted she relied on the definition of “light work” as contained in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). Plaintiff argues it is impossible to determine from this definition how the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's actual ability to walk, sit, stand, push, and pull, and that the ALJ assigned an exertional ...


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