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McNett v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 28, 2019

SANDRA MCNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of Defendant Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) denial of disability benefits as rendered in a decision by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). For the reasons below, the decision of the ALJ is AFFIRMED.

         Standard of Review

          A federal 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. 2001) (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 omitted).

         Discussion

         By way of overview, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative changes of the cervical spine; mild bilateral carpal tunnel; chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder; and osteoarthritis of the hands. 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”). The ALJ found, that despite her limitations, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work[1] with the following limitations: Plaintiff can occasionally climb stairs, ramps, ladders, and scaffolds; occasionally stoop and crouch; never crawl; and occasionally tolerate hazards such as unprotected heights, hazardous machinery, and pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a telemarketer. Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled and that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.

         Plaintiff brings the following arguments on appeal: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered and weighed the medical opinions; and (2) whether the ALJ properly discredited Plaintiff's credibility.

         First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ did not properly consider the medical opinions of Dr. Lomax and Dr. Kwock when formulating the RFC.[2] Plaintiff contends there is not substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's decision to afford consultative examiner Dr. Lomax's narrative opinion some weight and her subsequent functional capacity assessment little weight.[3] The ALJ discounted Dr. Lomax's narrative opinion and her subsequent functional capacity assessment due to the inconsistencies between the two reports.[4] See Mabry v. Colvin, 815 F.3d 386, 391 (8th Cir. 2016) (the ALJ may discount a medical opinion if the medical opinion is internally inconsistent).

         Next, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in awarding medical expert Dr. Kwock's opinion considerable weight.[5] The ALJ gave Dr. Kwock's opinion considerable weight for the following reasons: he is a board certified orthopedist; he is aware of all evidence in the record; he is familiar with the Social Security Administration disability program and evidentiary requirements; and his opinion is consistent with the overall record.[6] See Ponder v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1190, 1195 (8th Cir. 2014) (opinions from non-examining medical consultants may be entitled to greater weight than the opinion of treating or examining sources if the non-examining medical opinions are more supported by the record); SSR 96-6P at *3 (“[i]n appropriate circumstances, opinions from State agency medical and psychological consultants and other program physicians and psychologists may be entitled to greater weight than the opinions of treating or examining sources”). Accordingly, substantial evidence exists in the record to support the ALJ's weighing of Dr. Lomax and Dr. Kwock's opinion.

         Second, Plaintiff has argued the ALJ's credibility analysis is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Plaintiff has argued the ALJ did not properly consider the medical record and Plaintiff's limited activities of daily living.[7] 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 v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d at 801. Substantial evidence exists in the record to support the ALJ's consideration of Plaintiff's subjective complaints and the objective medical evidence.[8] See Ponder, 770 F.3d at 1195-96 (substantial evidence in the record supported the ALJ's credibility determination where the plaintiff had the following extensive activities of daily living: laundry, light housework, cooking meals, and grocery shopping). Accordingly, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's credibility determination.

         Conclusion

          Having carefully reviewed the record before the Court and parties' submissions on appeal, the Court concludes the substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, the decision of the ALJ is AFFIRMED.

         IT ...


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