United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
TIMOTHY M. GUSTIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SSA; Defendant.
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying supplemental
security income and disability insurance benefits. The
decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to determining if the decision
“complies with the relevant legal requirements and is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole.” Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d
979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance of the evidence, but is ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to support
the [Commissioner's] conclusion.'” Grable
v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)).
In determining whether existing evidence is substantial, the
Court takes into account evidence that both supports and
detracts from the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) findings. Cline v. Colvin, 771
F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted).
“If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, [the Court] may not reverse even if substantial
evidence would support the opposite outcome or [the Court]
would have decided differently.” Smith v.
Colvin, 756 F.3d 621, 625 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Davis, 239 F.3d at 966). The Court does not re-weigh
the evidence presented to the ALJ. Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing
Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir.
2003)). The Court should “defer heavily to the findings
and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Hurd v.
Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation
of overview, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from
the following severe impairments: obesity, lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease (DDD), status post laminectomy and
fusion surgery, hip arthritis, chronic pain syndrome, and
tobacco dependence. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the
following non-severe impairments: hypertension,
hypertriglyceridemia, prediabetes, and depression. However,
the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff's impairments,
whether considered alone or in combination, meet or medically
equal the criteria of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR
Pt. 404. Subpt. P, App. 1 (“Listing”).
Additionally, the ALJ found that, despite his limitations,
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of sedentary
work as defined in 20 § C.F.R. 404.1567(a) with
limitations. Although the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to
perform any past relevant work, the ALJ found jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform. Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not
disabled from January 1, 2013, through the date of the
appeal, Plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) whether
the weight given to Dr. Hamilton and nurse practitioner Smith
was proper, (2) whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed
the record, and (3) whether the ALJ's determination of
Plaintiff's credibility was supported by substantial
evidence supports the weight the ALJ awarded to Dr. Hamilton
and nurse practitioner Smith. The ALJ gave Dr. Hamilton's
opinion great weight. During Dr. Hamilton's examination,
Dr. Hamilton refused to fill out disability paperwork for
Plaintiff. Despite Plaintiff's argument to the contrary,
Dr. Hamilton's refusal to fill out disability paperwork
is not a statement concerning Plaintiff's disability
status. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(1),
416.927(d)(1); Ellis v. Barnhart, 392 F.3d 988,
994-95 (8th Cir. 2005) (a medical opinion concerning whether
a claimant is disabled is an issue reserved for the ALJ).
Further, there is substantial evidence in the record that
supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled
without consideration of Dr. Hamilton's refusal to fill
out disability paperwork. See Smith, 756 F.3d at 625
(“If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, we may not reverse even if substantial evidence
would support the opposite outcome”). For instance, Dr.
Hamilton chose not to escalate Plaintiff's pain
medication, and Dr. Hamilton's opinions were consistent
with the objective medical evidence in the record, including
imaging studies, physical examination findings, and Dr.
Hamilton's treatment notes.
awarded nurse practitioner Smith's opinion great
weight. In considering her opinion, the ALJ noted
that Smith is an “other medical
source.” Although Plaintiff argues the ALJ
improperly weighed Smith's opinion, the ALJ found that
Smith's opinion was consistent with Dr. Hamilton's
opinion, the imaging studies, and the physical examination
findings in the medical record. “Opinions from
‘other medical sources' may reflect the
source's judgment about some of the same issues addressed
in medical opinions from ‘acceptable medical
sources,' including symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis,
what the individual can still do despite the impairment(s),
and physical and mental restrictions.” Social Security
Ruling (SSR) 06-03p.
Plaintiff argues the ALJ did not fully and fairly develop the
record when formulating Plaintiff's RFC. While the ALJ
has a duty to develop the record, reversal for failure to
develop the record is required only when the failure to
develop the record is unfair or prejudicial to the plaintiff.
Ellis, 392 F.3d at 994. Plaintiff argues the ALJ
failed to obtain a medical opinion regarding Plaintiff's
functional limitations. However, when determining
Plaintiff's functional limitations, the ALJ considered
the opinions of Plaintiff's medical providers that
Plaintiff's medications were effective for his pain,
Plaintiff walked normally, and Plaintiff had normal muscle
strength and motor function. Substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision concerning the development of the medical
Plaintiff argues the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's
subjective complaints when formulating Plaintiff's RFC.
The evaluation of a plaintiff's subjective complaints is
“primarily for the ALJ to decide, not the
courts.” Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 731 (8th
Cir. 2016). The Court will “defer to the ALJ's
determinations regarding the credibility of testimony, so
long as they are supported by good reasons and substantial
evidence.” Guilliams, 393 F.3d 798 at 801.
See Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 967 (8th Cir.
2001) (subjective complaints of pain may be discredited by
performance of daily activities that are inconsistent with
such complaints); Brown v. Astrue, 611 F.3d 941, 955
(8th Cir. 2010) (“[i]f an impairment can be controlled
by treatment or medication, it cannot be considered
disabling”); Bernard v. Colvin, 774 F.3d 482,
487 (8th Cir. 2014) (noncompliance with treatment contradicts
Plaintiff's subjective complaints of disabling symptoms);
Bryant v. Colvin, 861 F.3d 779, 783 (8th Cir. 2017)
(inconsistencies between Plaintiff's statements and other
evidence may contradict his or her subjective complaints).
Substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the
ALJ's decision to discount Plaintiff's subjective
carefully reviewed the record before the Court and the
parties' submissions on appeal, the Court concludes that
substantial evidence on the ...