United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
MABLE P. ROJAS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
FINAL DECISION AND AWARDING BENEFITS
D. SMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SENIOR JUDGE
is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's
decision is reversed and the case is remanded with the
instruction to award benefits to Plaintiff.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to a determination of whether the decision is
“supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v.
Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations
omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the
record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not
reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record
that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we
would have decided the case differently.” Cline v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation
omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this
standard also requires the Court consider evidence that
fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v.
Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation
omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere
scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th
who was born in 1971, filed a Title II application for
disability and disability insurance benefits and Title XVI
application for supplement security income on June 10, 2010.
R. at 9, 111-30. She alleges she became disabled on June 4,
2010. Plaintiff's claims were denied, and she requested a
hearing. R. at 69-73, 76. A hearing was held in February
2012, after which the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff
was not disabled. R. at 9-19.
appealed the ALJ's decision, and on December 18, 2013,
the Court reversed the Commissioner's decision and
remanded the matter for further proceedings. No.
4:13-CV-0044-ODS-SSA (Doc. #18). In its Order, the Court
directed the ALJ to reconsider Dr. Ostrow's and Dr.
Boulware's opinions, and fully and properly explain how
he analyzed Plaintiff's credibility. Id.
2014, another hearing was held. R. at 837-38. Thereafter, the
ALJ issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled.
R. at 814-837. Plaintiff again appealed the ALJ's
decision, and on January 13, 2016, the Court affirmed in part
and reversed in part the Commissioner's decision denying
benefits. No. 4:15-CV-00004-ODS-SSA (Doc. #21). In its Order,
Order directed the ALJ to (1) include the specific moderate
limitations related to concentration, persistence, or pace in
Plaintiff's RFC, or provide a legally sufficient
explanation for not including those limitations; (2)
reevaluate his findings with regard to the weight afforded to
each medical opinion and specify what medical evidence
supports his RFC; (3) order a consultative examination
related to Plaintiff's mental limitations and a
consultative examination related to her physical limitations;
(4) set forth specifically why Dr. Boulware's opinions
were discounted; and (5) identify positions Plaintiff can
perform, given the specific limitations determined by the
August 2016, another hearing was held. R. at 1146.
Thereafter, the ALJ issued his decision finding Plaintiff was
not disabled. R. at 1446-1456. The ALJ determined Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, obstructive sleep apnea,
hypercapnia, history of an aortic aneurysm, obesity,
degenerative changes of the left ankle, a periodic limb
movement disorder, an anxiety disorder, a depressive
disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a
bereavement disorder, chest pain, syncope of unknown origin,
and a history of polysubstance abuse (20 CFR 404.152(c) and
416.920(c)). R. at 1290.
concluded Plaintiff had the following residual functional
[L]ift and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds
occasionally; she is limited to standing/walking two hours
total in an eight-hour workday and sitting eight hours total
in an eight-hour work day with normal breaks; she cannot
climb ladders, scaffolding, or ropes; she cannot work at
unprotected heights or around dangerous machinery; she cannot
work in high concentrations of dust, fumes, gases, or similar
pulmonary irritants; she cannot work in hot or cold
temperature extremes or in extreme high humidity; she can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb
ramps or stairs; she can perform simple, repetitive tasks
with each task requiring only momentary focused attention and
concentration to complete; she can occasionally interact with
co-workers and supervisors; she cannot interact with the
public in the performance of job duties.
R. at 1293. Based upon Plaintiff's RFC and the testimony
of the Vocational Expert (“VE”), the ALJ found
Plaintiff could perform work as a document preparer, a
semi-conductor bonder, and an ampoule sealer. R. at 1305.
Court has the authority to affirm, modify, or reverse the
decision of the ALJ, “with or without remanding the
case for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Ordinarily, when an ALJ's decision denying benefits is
reversed, the “abundant deference” owed to the
ALJ counsels in favor of remanding the case for further
administrative proceedings. Buckner v. Apfel, 213
F.3d 1006, 1011 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting Cox v.
Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1210 (8th Cir. 1998)).
Accordingly, the Court “may enter an immediate finding
of disability only if the record ‘overwhelmingly
supports' such a finding.” Id. (quoting
Thompson v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 611, 614 (8th Cir.
1992)). Although remand is the norm, it is not appropriate
where “further ...