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Valle v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

August 23, 2019

CARLA M VALLE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Carla M. Valle's appeal regarding the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the exercise of authority by the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Doc. 7.] The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire administrative record, including the transcript and medical evidence. Based on the following, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         Issues for Review

         Valle presents two issues for review. Valle contends that the administrative law judge's opinion failed to properly consider opinion evidence and contains multiple inaccuracies, which should serve as a basis for remand. The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and should be affirmed.

         Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines disability as an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1)(A).

         The standard of review is narrow. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). This Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find adequate support for the ALJ's decision. Smith v. Shalala, 31 F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). The Court determines whether evidence is substantial by considering evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision as well as evidence that supports it. Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006). The Court may not reverse just because substantial evidence exists that would support a contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the case differently. Id. If, after reviewing the record as a whole, the Court finds it possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner's finding, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004).

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as it conforms to the law and is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Collins ex rel. Williams v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 726, 729 (8th Cir. 2003). “In this substantial-evidence determination, the entire administrative record is considered but the evidence is not reweighed.” Byes v. Astrue, 687 F.3d. 913, 915 (8th Cir. 2012).


         In her Disability Report, Valle alleged that her impairments of irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and diabetes with neuropathy in the right arm and leg limit her ability to work. (Tr. 348.) The SSA initially denied her claim. She requested a hearing with an ALJ and he ultimately found that she was not disabled. (Tr. 110-29.) She requested review from the Appeals Council, which granted her request for review. The Appeals Council remanded her case to the ALJ for reconsideration of her carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis and obesity, re-evaluation for the weight given to the medical opinions, specific explanation of support for RFC, and testimony of a vocational expert. (Tr. 130-34.)

         After a second administrative hearing, the ALJ again found that Valle was not disabled. (Tr. 10-25.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Valle had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity. (Tr. 13.) He also found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14.) He opined that she had the RFC to perform a limited range of light work with the additional limitations of (1) need to change position for two minutes every hour, (2) no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, (3) occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, stoop, and climb ramps, and stairs; (3) no prolonged exposure to extreme cold, and (5) frequently handle, finger, and feel. (Tr. 15.) Ultimately, the ALJ found that Valle was not disabled as she could perform her past relevant work and there were other jobs in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. 23-25.) The Appeals Council denied a request for review. (Tr. 1-6.)

         Medical Opinion Evidence

         In his opinion, the ALJ gave no weight to the medical opinions of Valle's treating physicians Dr. Dan Frissell and Dr. Nawras Makhsida. Valle only asserts that the ALJ should have given controlling weight to Dr. Frissell's opinion. Therefore, the Court will not address Dr. Makhsida's opinion.

         Medical opinions are statements from physicians and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of a claimant's impairments, including symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, and what the claimant can still do despite her impairments and her physical or mental restrictions. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(a)(2), 416.927(a)(2)[2]. All medical opinions, whether by treating or consultative examiners are weighed based on (1) whether the provider examined the claimant; (2) whether the provider is a treating source; (3) length of treatment relationship and frequency of examination, including nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (4) supportability of opinion with medical signs, laboratory findings, ...

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