United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern 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 Amy Shrock's application for
Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had numerous impairments,
none of them were severe enough to significantly limit her
ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve
consecutive months, therefore she was not disabled.
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 her application on October 27, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of January 1, 2013. 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 November 15, 2017, issued a decision finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on June 5, 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. §
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 Two in
finding her mental impairments were non-severe; at the very
least, the ALJ should have ordered a consultative examination
concerning her mental functioning. These arguments are
order to meet the Step Two “severity”
requirement, Plaintiff had the burden of showing she had (1)
a medically determinable impairment or combination of
impairments which (2) significantly limited her physical or
mental ability to perform basic work activities without
regard to age, education, or work experience for the required
twelve-month duration. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c),
416.921(a); King v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 978, 979 n.2
(8th Cir. 2009). “Basic work activities” include
mental capacities for understanding, carrying out, and
remembering simple instructions; using judgment; responding
appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work
situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work
setting. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b)(3)-(6).
Although severity is not an onerous requirement, it is not a
toothless standard either. Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d
705, 708 (8th Cir. 2007).
case, Plaintiff did not meet her burden of showing that her
mental impairments were severe impairments. As the ALJ noted,
Plaintiff did not seek specialized mental health treatment
during the relevant period. R. at 88. Granted, she had a
psychological evaluation following a referral from her
obstetrician when she was thirty-seven weeks pregnant, but
she never saw a mental health professional for treatment. R.
at 88, 125, 412. This is unsurprising since the record
suggests her symptoms were generally controlled. R at 432.
For instance, in June 2015, Plaintiff went to the emergency
room for abdominal pain, but she denied having anxiety or
nervousness. R. at 362-63. Although Plaintiff argues the ALJ
relied too heavily on the lack of formal mental health
treatment, the fact that Plaintiff was never treated by a
mental health professional for her allegedly severe
impairments was a proper factor for the ALJ to consider.
See Whitman v. Coleman, 762 F.3d 701, 706 (8th Cir.
2014) (noting a lack of treatment may indicate a problem is
not serious). Aside from the lack of treatment, the ALJ also
noted that the consultative examiner, Dr. Yung Hwang, M.D.,
stated that Plaintiff's depression, anxiety, and panic
attacks were “extremely mild” and occurred only
occasionally. R. at 88, 405, 407.
reached the same conclusion after analyzing Plaintiff's
mental impairments using the psychiatric review technique
prescribed by the regulations. This technique considers the
claimant's degree of limitation in four functional areas
known as the Category B criteria: (1) understanding,
remembering, or applying information; (2) interacting with
others; (3) concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4)
adopting or managing oneself. R. at 88-89; 20 C.F.R. §
404.1521(a). The ALJ found Plaintiff had only, “at
most, ” mild limitations in each of these four areas,
so her mental impairments were non-severe. R. at 88-89; 20
C.F.R. § 404.1521a(d)(1). The record supports these
findings. For example, with respect to the first criterion,
the ALJ observed that although Plaintiff claimed to need
reminders to manage her personal care, take medication, and
go places, she had no difficulty remembering things during
her consultative examination, and she denied having any
memory issues during her March 2016 psychological assessment.
R. at 88, 406, 419. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff was
able to care for her two young children, one of whom was
disabled with autism. R. at 88, 111-12, 257. She was also
able to perform various tasks that required her to
understand, remember, and apply information, such as
preparing meals, counting change, going grocery shopping, and
managing a checkbook. R. at 88, 257-59. Thus, substantial
evidence on the record supports the ALJ's determination.
Plaintiff cites other evidence in the record that might
support an alternate outcome, such as a psychologist's
opinion from March 2016 assessing Plaintiff with a Global
Assessment of Functioning score of 51 and recommending
Plaintiff pursue outpatient therapy. R. at 423. But this
opinion does not change the fact that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's determination that ...