United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff's appeal seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying disability
benefits. The decision of the Commissioner is
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.” KKC v. Colvin, 818 F.3d 364, 374 (8th
Cir. 2016) (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, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the [Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Gann v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 947,
950 (8th Cir. 2017). In determining whether existing evidence
is substantial, the Court takes into account “evidence
that both supports and detracts from the ALJ's
[Administrative Law Judge] decision.” Milam v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting
Perkins v. Asture, 648 F.3d 892, 897 (8th Cir.
2011)). “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 v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)).
The Court does not re-weigh the evidence presented to the
ALJ. Reece v. Colvin, 834 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir.
2016). The Court should “defer heavily to the findings
and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Wright v.
Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015) (quotation and
of overview, the ALJ determined Plaintiff suffers from the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, neuropathy,
fibromyalgia/central sensitization, chronic migraine
headaches, and essential tremors. The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: a history
of hypoglycemic seizures, spells of unclear episodes,
syncopal spells, knee pain, hypertension, asthma, allergic
rhinitis, anxiety, 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”). After consideration of the
entire record, the ALJ found that despite his limitations,
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with the
following limitations: lifting up to ten (10) pounds at a
time and occasionally walking and standing; Plaintiff must
avoid all exposure to hazards including dangerous machinery
and unprotected heights. See 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform past relevant work as a customer service clerk and a
freight rate analysist. The ALJ determined that, considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
Plaintiff was able to perform jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. Based on the ALJ's
finding that Plaintiff was able to work, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was not disabled.
appeal, Plaintiff presents the following issues: (1) whether
the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility, (2)
whether the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinions in
the record, and (3) whether the ALJ properly formulated
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of
Plaintiff's credibility. See Travis v. Astrue,
477 F.3d 1037, 1042 (8th Cir. 2007) (a court “will not
substitute its opinion for the ALJ's, who is in the
better position to gauge credibility and resolve conflicts in
the evidence”); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529 and
416.929; SSR 96-7p. The ALJ determined Plaintiff's
medically determinable impairments could reasonably be
expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the
Plaintiff's statements concerning intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of the symptoms are not fully credible.
Plaintiff testified he can perform normal activities of daily
living including maintaining personal hygiene, driving a
vehicle independently, helping with chores, and using the
computer. Plaintiff also testified he could not afford
prescription medication; however, Plaintiff did not apply for
a prescription drug assistance program and was able to afford
to go on a cruise to the Bahamas. Finally, Plaintiff's
noncompliance with medical advice calls into question the
credibility of his subjective complaints. Plaintiff did not
follow medical recommendations to exercise and stop smoking.
See Ponder v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1190, 1195-96 (8th
Cir. 2014) (substantial evidence supports the ALJ in finding
the claimant was not disabled where the claimant was not
restricted in daily activities including: laundry, light
housework, cooking meals, and grocery shopping); Choate
v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 872 (8th Cir. 2006)
(“an ALJ may properly consider the claimant's
noncompliance with a treating physician's directions . .
. including failing to take prescription medications, . . .
seek treatment [and] quit smoking”). Accordingly, the
record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
finding that Plaintiff's subjective complaints lack
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's evaluation of the
medical opinions in the record. Specifically, Plaintiff
argues the ALJ did not give appropriate weight to the
opinions of treating physicians Dr. Thomas and Dr. Radhamma.
Although a treating physician's opinion is usually
entitled to great weight, it may be discounted when the
opinion contradicts the record as a whole. Prosch v.
Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2000) (citations
omitted). Plaintiff introduced two opinions from Dr.
Radhamma, a narrative letter requesting insurance support for
Plaintiff's medical needs and a Medical Questionnaire.
The ALJ properly gave little, rather than controlling weight,
to both opinions from Dr. Radhamma. Dr. Radhamma's
narrative letter only addressed insurance coverage and did
not discuss how Plaintiff's limitations would affect his
ability to work. Further, Dr. Radhamma did not frame the
letter in functionally limiting terms, nor did she justify
her statements with specific support. In Dr. Radhamma's
Medical Questionnaire, Dr. Radhamma's opined limitations
are inconsistent with Dr. Radhamma's own treatment notes,
inconsistent with the clinical and diagnostic test findings,
and inconsistent with the record as a whole. Further, the ALJ
discounted Dr. Radhamma's opinion in the Medical
Questionnaire because it was written in a checkbox format
without further explanation. See Anderson v. Astrue,
696 F.3d 790, 794 (8th Cir. 2012) (“[W]e have
recognized that a conclusory checkbox form has little
evidentiary value when it ‘cites no medical evidence,
and provides little to no elaboration.'”) (quoting
Wildman, 596 F.3d 959, 965 n.3 (8th Cir. 2010));
Taylor v. Chater, 118 F.3d 1274, 1279 (8th Cir.
1997) (“[r]esidential functional capacity checklists,
though admissible, are entitled to little weight in the
evaluation of disability.”).
also offered a narrative letter from Dr. Thomas. The ALJ
afforded little weight to Dr. Thomas's medical opinion
because it was not framed in functionally limiting terms and
lacked specific support. Further, although Dr. Thomas opined
that Plaintiff was completely disabled, Dr. Thomas'
statement is not dispositive because a disability
determination is an administrative finding left to the ALJ.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2) and
416.927(e)(2); Ellis v. Barnhart, 392 F.3d 988,
994-95 (8th Cir. 2005) (a medical source opinion that
Plaintiff is disabled or unable to work is an issue reserved
for the ALJ).
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
determination. See Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923,
928 (8th Cir. 2015) (Plaintiff has the burden to prove his
RFC); Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 793 (8th Cir.
2005) (“The ALJ must assess a claimant's RFC based
on all relevant, credible, evidence in the record,
‘including medical records, observations of treating
physicians and others, and an individual's own
description of his limitations'”) (citations
omitted)); Kamann v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 945, 950 (8th
Cir. 2013) (the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's
RFC is the responsibility of the ALJ alone, distinct from a
medical source opinion). Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in
her conclusion that Plaintiff had only limited,
non-exertional restrictions, leading the ALJ to conclude that
Plaintiff could return to his past relevant work as a
customer service clerk and a freight rate analysist. The ALJ
properly formulated Plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ established
a restrictive physical RFC based on the overall record,
including the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's
credibility was lacking. Although the VE testified that
employers in the national economy would not accommodate the
non-exertional limitations found by Dr. Radhamma, the
VE's findings were properly discounted by the ALJ.
Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to
discount the VE's findings that were based on Dr.
Radhamma's opined limitations because the ALJ only gave
partial weight to Dr. Radhamma's opinion. See
Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 985-86 (8th Cir.
2015) (a vocational expert's testimony based on properly
phrased hypothetical questions is substantial evidence);
Lockwood v. Colvin, 627 Fed.Appx. 575, 577 (8th Cir.
2015) (quoting Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th
Cir. 2007)) (“[e]ven though the RFC assessment draws
from medical sources for support, it is ultimately an
administrative determination reserved to the [ALJ]”);
Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 561 (8th Cir. 2011)
(citing Owen v. Astrue, 551 F.3d 792, 801-02 (8th
Cir.2008)) (other internal citations omitted) (“[A]n
ALJ may omit alleged impairments from a hypothetical question
posed to a vocational expert when ‘[t]here is no
medical evidence that these conditions impose any
restrictions on [the claimant's] functional
capabilities'” or “when the record does not
support the claimant's contention that his impairments
‘significantly restricted his ability to perform
gainful employment.'”) Accordingly, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's RFC determination.
carefully reviewed the record before the Court and the
parties' submissions on appeal, the Court concludes that
substantial evidence on the ...