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McDaniel v. Saul

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

September 19, 2019

JEFFREY DEAN MCDANIEL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Jeffrey Dean McDaniel's appeal regarding the denial of supplemental security income ("SSI") for a closed period 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. 8.] 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

         McDaniel presents three issues for review. First, he asserts that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") committed reversible error by finding that he was not disabled between October 20, 2014 and March 5, 2017. Second, McDaniel contends that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to properly assess the opinion evidence from treating psychiatric nurse practitioner Melissa Fischer. Third, McDaniel asserts that the residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination is legally erroneous, because it failed to include the ALJ's finding that his mental impairments preclude even unskilled work on a sustained basis. 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. § 4l6(i)(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).

         Discussion

         Factual Background

         McDaniel filed applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI with an alleged onset date of January 1, 1999. (Tr. 210-17.) McDaniel subsequently amended his alleged onset date to October 20, 2014. (Tr. 225.) Because this amended onset date was past his date last insured for disability insurance benefits, December 31, 2009, McDaniel only proceeded on his SSI claim before the ALT (Tr. 11, 33-34.)

         McDaniel asserted the following impairments in support of his SSI claim: (1) back injury and pain, (2) bipolar affective disorder, (3) knee pain, (4) high blood pressure, and (5) shoulder injury and pain. (Tr. 232.) His claim was denied at the hearing level and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 130-31.) The ALJ held two administrative hearings on August 6, 2016 and December2l, 2016. (Tr. 31-110.) McDaniel and vocational expert ("VE") Brenda Young testified at the administrative hearings. After the administrative hearings, the ALJ gave McDaniel a partially favorable ruling, finding that he was disabled beginning March 6, 2017. (Tr. 11-24.) McDaniel requested a hearing from the Appeals Council, which denied review. Therefore, the ALJ's decision was the final decision of the Commissioner. McDaniel then filed this action for a review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         Opinion Evidence

         First, the Court will address the ALJ's decision to give little weight to nurse practitioner Melissa Fischer's opinion regarding McDaniel's mental impairments. McDaniel contends that the ALJ ...


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