United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER AND OPINION REVERSING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL
DECISION DENYING BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social
Security's decision denying her application for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits. For the
following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to a determination of whether the decision is
“supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v.
Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations
omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the
record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not
reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record
that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we
would have decided the case differently.” Cline v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation
omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this
standard also requires the Court consider evidence that
fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v.
Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation
omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere
scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th
was born in 1958 and her highest level of education is juris
doctor. R. at 34-35. She previously worked as an immigration
officer. R. at 18, 38. In October 2015, Plaintiff applied for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging a disability onset date of December 27, 2014. R. at
10. Her application was denied, and she requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A
hearing was held in October 2017. R. at 31-50.
January 2018, ALJ P. H. Jung issued a decision, finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 10-19. The ALJ found
Plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar and cervical spine, obesity,
hypertension, and osteopenia. R. at 12. The ALJ determined
Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except that she can
[o]ccasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, ” “can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl,
” and “should avoid frequent exposure to extreme
cold, wetness, vibration, hazards, machinery, and
heights.” R. at 14. Sedentary work is defined as
“lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files,
ledgers, and small tools.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(a). For a sedentary job, “a certain amount of
walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job
duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are
required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are
met.” Id. Based on the RFC and the vocational
expert's (“VE”) testimony at the hearing, the
ALJ concluded Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant
work. R. at 18.
appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which
denied her appeal. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court.
argues the Commissioner's decision must be reversed for
several reasons. As set forth infra, the Court
agrees, reverse the Commissioner's decision denying
benefits, and remands the matter for further proceedings.
Dr. Pratt's Opinion
to the onset of Plaintiff's alleged disability, one
medical provider, Dr. Terrence Pratt, set forth limitations
regarding Plaintiff's ability to work. R. at 274. Dr.
Pratt opined Plaintiff should not lift more than ten pounds,
should not frequently bend or twist, should change positions
at thirty- and sixty-minute intervals when necessary, and
must be permitted to “supine as necessary.”
Id. Dr. Pratt also stated, “it would be best
if she could perform activities vocationally related at
home.” Id. As Defendant concedes, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) did not consider
Dr. Pratt's opinion. #15, at 7. Defendant contends the
ALJ's failure to consider and afford weight to Dr.
Pratt's opinion equates to harmless error because the
ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
“largely accommodates Dr. Pratt's
ALJ's failure to consider and afford weight to Dr.
Pratt's opinion is contrary to the applicable regulation.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(b)-(c) (stating “we will
always consider the medical opinions in your case” and
“[r]egardless of its source, we will evaluate every
opinion medical opinion we receive.”). While the
ALJ's RFC accounts for Dr. Pratt's opinion that
Plaintiff should not lift more than ten pounds, the ALJ's
RFC does not account for the other limitations set forth by
Dr. Pratt. First, the RFC does not address Plaintiff's
need to avoid frequent bending and twisting. Second, the RFC
does not account for Plaintiff being able to change her
position every thirty to sixty minutes. Third, the RFC does
not address Plaintiff being supine when necessary. Finally,
the RFC does not indicate the possibility of performing
vocational activities at home. Thus, contrary to
Defendant's representation, the ALJ's RFC does not
“largely” account for Dr. Pratt's opinion as
to Plaintiff's functional limitations. Accordingly,
Defendant's argument that the ALJ's failure to
consider Dr. Pratt's opinion was harmless error fails.
Upon remand, the ALJ must consider Dr. Pratt's opinion,
and explain the weight, if any, afforded to his opinion.