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Eden v. Berryhill

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

April 22, 2019

HEATHER EDEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Heather Eden seeks review of the decision by Defendant denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the ALJ's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Eden filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on January 24, 2013, pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. Tr. 136. Eden, who was born in 1974, claimed that she became disabled April 1, 2005. Tr. 136, 162. She claims that her disability is caused by mental impairments, migraines, fibromyalgia, and asthma.

         Eden's case is before the Court for the second time. The Court previously remanded the proceeding (Tr. 784-94), but there is no dispute that the Court's prior decision is not at issue on this appeal. See Doc. 16, p. 2; see, generally, Doc. 17. On remand, the ALJ concluded, after another hearing, that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: probable fibromyalgia, migraines, asthma, chronic rhino sinusitis, obesity, and mental impairments variously diagnosed as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, bereavement, and bipolar affective disorder. Tr. 647-48. The ALJ nonetheless concluded that Eden retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as follows:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can frequently climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, excessive vibration, concentrated use of hazardous machinery except motor vehicles, and unprotected heights; must avoid even moderate exposure to irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ventilated areas. She can maintain concentration, persistence and pace on simple tasks for two-hour periods, make simple work-related decisions, understand, remember, and carry out simple work instructions and procedures, and can adapt to changes in the workplace that are simple, predictable, and can be easily explained. She should avoid working with the public, but can engage in occasional and superficial interaction with coworkers and supervisors.

Tr. 652. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Eden's RFC would allow her to work as a Mail Clerk or Battery Assembler-jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including in the State of Missouri. Tr. 658. The ALJ therefore concluded that Eden was not under a “disability” as that term is defined in the Act. Tr. 658-59. The Social Security Administration's Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 635-641. The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review.

         II. STANDARD

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits “if substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the ALJ's decision.” Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough so that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's conclusion.” Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000). The Court must consider both “evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “as long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, [the Court] may not reverse it because substantial evidence also exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because [the Court] would have decided the case differently.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The Court must “defer heavily to the findings and conclusions of the Social Security Administration.” Michel v. Colvin, 640 Fed.Appx. 585, 592 (8th Cir. 2016) (quotation marks and citations omitted).


         Eden argues (1) that the ALJ failed to include certain limitations described by a treating psychiatrist that the ALJ had deemed credible, and (2) that the ALJ did not properly evaluate Eden's allegations. The Court considers these arguments in turn.

         a. Whether the ALJ Failed to Include Certain Restrictions as to which Dr. Christy Opined

         Richard Christy, M.D., Eden's treating physician from September 9, 2014 through 2016 (Tr. 1063-1110, 2092-2134), provided a check-the-box form titled “MEDICAL SOURCE STATEMENT - MENTAL” on January 28, 2016. The ALJ purported to afford “great weight” to Dr. Christy's opinion. However, Eden claims that the ALJ nonetheless failed to include in the RFC all of the limitations as to which Dr. Christy opined, without explanation.

         Dr. Christy opined that Eden was “Moderately Limited” in four abilities: “to understand and remember detailed instructions, ” “to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, ” “to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods, ” and “to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors.” Tr. 1035-36. In every other regard, Dr. Christy deemed Eden “Not Significantly ...

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