United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security's (“the Commissioner”)
decision denying Plaintiff David Jordan's applications
for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42
U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income
under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-
1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found
Plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity, osteoarthritis,
degenerative joint disease, and anxiety, but he retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work as a
weight tester, dowel inspector, and printed circuit board
carefully reviewing the record and the parties'
arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported
by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
and Factual Background
complete facts and arguments are presented in the
parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent
filed his applications on October 28, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of July 12, 2015. 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 December 26, 2017, issued a decision finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on June 25, 2018, leaving
the ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final
decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies
and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
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. Chaney v. Colvin,
812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is
less than a preponderance, but is enough evidence 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; a decision is not outside this zone simply because
the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner
v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process 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 the ALJ erred at Step Four
when he wrote that he gave the opinion of her psychologist,
Dr. Jennifer Alberty, Psy. D., “great weight” but
then did not include all the mental limitations the doctor
suggested in the RFC. This argument is without merit.
determination of a claimant's RFC in an administrative
hearing is the ALJ's responsibility. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1546(c); 416.946(c). The RFC determination
is based on the record as a whole and does not have to rely
on a particular physician's opinion. Martise v.
Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 927 (8th Cir. 2011) (“[T]he
ALJ is not required to rely entirely on a particular
physician's opinion or choose between the opinions [of]
any of the claimant's physicians.”); Pearsall
v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217-18 (8th Cir. 2001)
(noting the RFC is based on “all relevant
case, the ALJ did not, as Plaintiff suggests, accept all of
Dr. Alberty's opinions. Rather, the ALJ accepted them to
the extent they were consistent with her examination results,
which the ALJ found supported mild to moderate limitations
only on Plaintiff's understanding, memory, concentration,
social interaction, and adaption. While the ALJ could have
made this explanation more clear, it is sufficient, and most
importantly, supported by the record.
wrote that mild to moderate mental limitations were
consistent with Dr. Alberty's examinations showing all of
Plaintiff's areas of mental functioning to be within
normal limits. R. 37-40. These findings are supported by the
record. For example, Dr. Alberty's December 2015
examination notes indicate Plaintiff arrived on time and
transported himself; he was cooperative; he displayed
adequate hygiene; and he had no difficulty maintaining eye
contact. R. at 390. His mood was predominately euthymic; he
denied difficulty with his temper; he was not actively
psychotic; and his speech was normal. R. at 390. Dr.
Alberty's notes do not reflect any marked mental
limitations. Examination notes from subsequent appointments
also showed that Plaintiff's appearance, motor, speech,
affect, and mood were all within normal limits, and he had
logical thoughts and displayed an appropriate demeanor. R. at
387, 389, 503-04.
ALJ's view of Dr. Alberty's notes is buttressed by
the opinion of Charles Watson, Psy.D., the reviewing
psychologist. Dr. Watson opined that Plaintiff's ability
to carry our very short and simple instructions and perform
activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, be
punctual within customary tolerances, make simple
work-related decisions, and complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruptions from psychologically based
symptoms was not significantly limited. R. at 103-04.
Additionally, Plaintiff's ability to maintain attention
and concentration for extended periods and work in
coordination with or proximity to others without being
distracted by them was only moderately limited, as was his
ability to interact appropriately with the general public,
accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism
from supervisors, and get along with coworkers or peers
without distracting them or ...