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Zorsch v. Berryhill

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

July 20, 2018

REBECCA ZORSCH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Rebecca Zorsch (“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 occipital neuralgia, cervicalgia, migraine headaches, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, obesity, fibromyalgia, and Chiari malformation, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work as an employment and claims aid, or alternatively, a marker.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 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 27, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 11, 2014. 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 May 31, 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 by: (1) discounting a portion of Stephen Holmes's M.D. (“Dr. Holmes”) opinion; (2) failing to provide a narrative statement explaining why he omitted limitations due to Plaintiff's headaches; and (3) failing to fully develop the record. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds these arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ properly weighed the medical evidence.

         First, Plaintiff complains that the ALJ incorrectly discounted a portion of her treating physician, Dr. Holmes's opinion.

         An ALJ “may discount or even disregard the opinion of a treating physician where other medical assessments are supported by better or more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating physician renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of such opinions.” Medhaug v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 805, 815 (8th Cir. 2009). Physician opinions that are internally inconsistent are entitled to less deference than they would otherwise receive. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 803 (8th Cir. 2005). Further, an ALJ is entitled to give less weight to a physician's opinion when ...


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