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Medley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division

March 11, 2019

ANNA M. MEDLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Anna M. Medley's application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. Medley alleged disability due to problem with brain function and depression. (Tr. 176.) The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 8.]

         In this action, Medley contends that the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) opinion is not supported by substantial evidence. In support, she states that the ALJ erred in giving limited weight to a consultative psychologist and her treating psychiatric nurse while giving significant weight to a non-examining psychologist. She also contends that the ALJ erred when concluding that she would be off task to a minimal degree when formulating the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. The Commissioner responds that the administrative law judge's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed. Based on the following, the Court will reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision.

         Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) uses a five-step analysis to determine whether a claimant seeking disability benefits is in fact disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). First, the claimant must not be engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Second, the claimant must establish that he or she has an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities and meets the durational requirements of the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). Third, the claimant must establish that his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in the appendix of the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment, the SSA determines the claimant's RFC to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

         Fourth, the claimant must establish that the impairment prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant meets this burden, the analysis proceeds to step five. At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant satisfied all of the criteria under the five-step evaluation, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003).

         Discussion

         Medley asserts that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical evidence in her case, did not include all of her limitations in the RFC determination, and failed to fully develop the record.

         Evaluation of Medical Evidence

         First, Medley contends that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical evidence in this action. The Court will address each medical opinion separately.

         State Agency Psychological Consultants

         Two state agency psychologists provided opinions regarding Medley's residual functional capacity. Dr. Thomas Spencer examined Medley on May 11, 2015. Dr. Stanley Hutson reviewed Medley's medical records and prepared on opinion dated June 29, 2015. “State agency medical and psychological consultants and other program physicians, psychologists, and other medical specialists are highly qualified physicians, psychologists, and other medical specialists who are also experts in Social Security disability evaluation.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(2)(i)[1]. “Therefore, administrative law judges must consider findings and other opinions of State agency medical and psychological consultants and other program physicians, psychologists, and other medical specialists as opinion evidence, ” except for the determination of disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(b)(8), 404.1527(e)(2)(i). “Administrative law judges are not bound by any findings made by State agency medical or psychological consultants or other program physicians or psychologists.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e)(2)(i). Their opinions are evaluated under the standards outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).

         Medical opinions are statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of a claimant's impairments, including symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, and what the claimant can still do despite her impairments and her physical or mental restrictions. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)(2). All medical opinions, whether by treating or consultative examiners are weighed based on (1) whether the provider examined the claimant; (2) whether the provider is a treating source; (3) length of treatment relationship and frequency of examination, including nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (4) supportability of opinion with medical signs, laboratory findings, and explanation; (5) consistency with the record as a whole; (6) specialization; and (7) other factors which tend to support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).

         Dr. Thomas Spencer

         Dr. Spencer examined Medley on May 11, 2015 and prepared a psychological evaluation on May 14, 2015. (Tr. 239-242.) Dr. Spencer also reviewed Medley's medical records. (Tr. 239.) Dr. Spencer observed that Medley had no impairment in grooming or hygiene. (Tr. 241.) He noted that her eye contact was intermittent, while her speech was flat and with a marked delay. (Tr. 241.) He also noted that her motor behavior was delayed. (Tr. 241.) Dr. Spencer wrote that Medley was cooperative, but had trouble answering questions. (Tr. 241.) He opined that her insight and judgment appeared questionable. (Tr. 241.)

         Medley was alert and oriented to person, place, and event, but thought it was September 2000. (Tr. 241.) In testing, she related poorly to proverbs and similarities, but demonstrated a decent working knowledge of social norms. (Tr. 241.) She exhibited an impairment in long term memory. (Tr. 241.) She could not spell the word “world.” (Tr. 241.) She could not complete simple arithmetic. (Tr. 241.) Dr. Spencer diagnosed Medley with major depressive disorder, ...


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