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Erbe v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2019

JOSEPH ERBE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          GREG KAYS, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Joseph Erbe (“Plaintiff”) petitions for judicial review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 and 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff's allegations of disabling symptoms were not supported by the medical record and determined Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform other work as a battery assembler or production assembler.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed his applications on December 26, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of August 2, 2011. The Commissioner denied the applications at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on July 14, 2017, found Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review on May 14, 2018. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1382(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

         A 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 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 points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).


         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] 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. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by (1) giving no weight to the opinion of Sheetal Dhoke, M.D., a psychiatrist who treated Plaintiff three times and (2) failing to adopt the opinion of Michael Wuebker, Ph.D., a consultative examiner, that Plaintiff would have difficulties responding to work setting pressures. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

         I. The ALJ did not err by assigning no weight to Dr. Dhoke's opinion.

         Dr. Dhoke opined Plaintiff had moderate or marked limitations in all areas of mental functioning, would be absent from work more than three times a month, and was unemployable. R. at 1169-70. Plaintiff argues that Dr. Dhoke's opinion is entitled to great weight because the ALJ did not give good reasons for disregarding her opinion.

         A treating physician is a doctor with whom the patient “‘has, or has had, an ongoing treatment relationship.'” Walker v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 911 F.3d 550, 553 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1502, 416.902 (2015)). “Opinions by treating physicians receive controlling weight if they are well-supported by the medical evidence and are ‘not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record.'” Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927 (2015)). “Whether the ALJ gives the opinion of a treating physician great or little weight, the ALJ must give good reasons for doing so.” Reece v. Colvin, 834 F.3d 904, 909 (8th Cir. 2016). ‚ÄúSuch reasons include internal inconsistency or that other physicians' opinions have better evidentiary ...

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