United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
ORDER AFFIRMING IN PART AND REMANDING IN PART THE
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.
Kenneth Morris (“Plaintiff”) petitions for review
of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff
applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental
Security Income under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of
morbid obesity, mild lumbar spondylosis, knee pain and a
history of knee surgeries, depression, anxiety, a learning
disorder, and a history of alcoholism, but retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
work as an electrical assembler, sewing machine operator, and
carefully reviewing the record and the parties'
arguments, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed in
part and remanded in part. The Commissioner's decision is
REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.
and Factual Background
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
filed his application on November 2, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of October 1, 2008. The Commissioner
denied the application at the initial claim level, and
Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. Initially there was
a favorable decision by an ALJ, but the Appeals Counsel
vacated that decision and remanded to another ALJ. That ALJ
held a hearing, and on December 16, 2016, issued a decision
finding 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) and 42 U.S.C.
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
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process 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. §
February 2016, Bryce Gray, Psy.D. (“Dr. Gray”)
conducted a consultative examination and wrote a narrative
report of that examination. R. at 549-53. Dr. Gray opined
that Plaintiff would “most likely” have
difficulty understanding and remembering instructions.
Additionally, Dr. Gray concluded that Plaintiff would have
minimal problems interacting socially and adapting to his
May 2016, Dr. Gray completed a Medical Source
Statement-Mental (“MSS-M”) concerning
Plaintiff's mental limitations. R. at 556-59. Dr. Gray
concluded that Plaintiff was moderately limited working with
complex instructions and making complex decisions, but only
mildly limited working with simple instructions and making
simple decisions. Regarding Plaintiff's social
functioning, Dr. Gray concluded he was moderately limited in
interacting with supervisors and co-workers, and moderately
limited in responding appropriately to usual work situations
and changes in routine work setting. R. at 556.
gave “partial weight” to Dr. Gray's narrative
opinion because the diagnoses were consistent with the
medical evidence in the record but seemed to reject the
narrative's opinions as to Plaintiff's social
functioning. The ALJ “adopted” Dr. Gray's
MSS-M opinion that Plaintiff had mild issues with simple
decision-making, and moderate difficulty with social
functioning, because those finding were generally consistent
with the record. R. at 24.
noted that Dr. Grey's narrative opinion conflicted with
the MSS-M in regards to Plaintiff's ability to understand
simple work related decision-making and social functioning.
The ALJ explained he adopted the MSS-M opinions as to these