United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Tina M. Rhodes seeks review of Defendant's decision
denying her claim under Title XVI of the Social Security Act
for Supplemental Security Income benefits. For the reasons
set forth below, the Court affirms the Administrative Law
September 8, 2015, at the age of 23, Ms. Rhodes filed for
Supplemental Security Income benefits, alleging an onset date
of December 21, 2010, which was later amended at the hearing
to the date of application, September 8, 2015. Tr. 17.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded after a hearing that
Ms. Rhodes had the following severe impairments: pain
syndrome, degenerative disc disease, asthma, sphincter of
Oddi dysfunction, migraines, and mental disorders variously
diagnosed as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Tr. 20. The ALJ
found that Ms. Rhodes had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work, as defined by 20 C.F.R.
416.967(b), with the following exceptions:
She can occasionally climb stairs and ramps but never ladders
or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. She cannot perform jobs in bright light, further
defined as stage lighting, strobe lighting, paint booth
lighting, and bright sunlight. She must avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold and heat, wetness, humidity, fumes,
odors, dusts, gases, level 5 noise, and vibrations, further
defining vibrations as performing jobs such as operating
jackhammers and other equipment where the operator is
significantly vibrated. She must avoid all exposure to
hazards of heights and machinery. She can understand,
remember, and carry out simple instructions and non-detailed
tasks, further defined as SVP 2 work and below. She can
respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers in a
task-oriented setting where contact with others, including
the public, is infrequent. She can adapt to routine/simple
work changes. She can perform repetitive work according to
set procedures, sequence, or pace.
Tr. 23. Based on the testimony of the vocational expert (VE),
the ALJ concluded that given Ms. Rhodes' RFC, she would
be able to perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as a small products assembler or electrical
accessory assembler. Tr. 29. Therefore, the ALJ determined
Ms. Rhodes was able to perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy and was not
“disabled” as defined by the Social Security Act.
Tr. 30. The ALJ's decision, as the final decision by the
Commissioner, is subject to judicial review.
reviewing the Commissioner's denial of benefits, the
Court considers whether “substantial evidence in the
record as a whole supports the ALJ's decision.”
Milam v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015).
“Substantial evidence” is less than a
preponderance but enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the ALJ's conclusion. Id.
The Court must consider evidence that both supports and
detracts from the ALJ's decision. Id.
“[A]s long as substantial evidence in the record
supports the Commissioner's decision, [the Court] may not
reverse it because substantial evidence also exists in the
record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or
because [the Court] would have decided the case
differently.” Andrews v. Colvin, 791 F.3d 923,
928 (8th Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
The Court must “defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions of the Social Security Administration.”
Michel v. Colvin, 640 Fed.Appx. 585, 592 (8th Cir.
2016) (quotation marks and citations omitted).
Rhodes' arguments concern the ALJ's decisions at two
different stages of the five-step sequential evaluation.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. First, Ms. Rhodes
challenges the ALJ's determination prior to the fourth
step regarding determination of the RFC. Second, Ms. Rhodes
challenges the determination at the fifth and final step of
the sequential evaluation process, arguing the Commissioner
failed to meet the burden of proof of establishing that Ms.
Rhodes could perform the duties of the positions identified
by the VE.
Whether the RFC as to Ms. Rhodes' physical impairments is
supported by substantial evidence
claimant's RFC is the most she can do despite her
limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1).
The ALJ may formulate the RFC based not only on medical
evidence, but also on other relevant, credible evidence of
record, though some medical evidence is required. Perks
v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092 (8th Cir. 2012).
“Although it is the ALJ's responsibility to
determine the claimant's RFC, the burden is on the
claimant to establish his or her RFC.” Buford v.
Colvin, 824 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2016) (citations
Medical opinion as to functional limitations
Rhodes argues that while the ALJ acknowledged her multiple
“severe” physical impairments, there are no
medical opinions of record as to the functional limitations
stemming from those physical impairments and that the ALJ
thus had a duty to develop the record fully by obtaining a
medical opinion rather than relying on his own medical
expertise. Doc. 12, p. 30.
an ALJ is not limited to considering only medical evidence,
there must be at least “‘some medical evidence of
the claimant's ability to function the
workplace.'” Perks, 687 F.3d at 1092
(quoting Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619 (8th Cir.
2007)). “Some medical evidence, however, need not
include any medical opinions that address a plaintiff's
ability to function in the workplace. Instead, mild or
unremarkable objective medical findings and other medical
evidence may constitute sufficient medical support for an RFC
finding, even in the absence of any medical opinion evidence
directly addressing the Plaintiff's ability to function
in the workplace.” Perfater v. Berryhill, No.
4:17-CV-00722-NKL, 2018 WL 3037427, at *3 (W.D. Mo. June 19,
2018) (internal quotations omitted).
it is undisputed that there is no medical opinion of record
as to Ms. Rhodes' physical limitations. Therefore, the
question is whether the medical evidence that does exist in
the record is sufficient to support Ms. Rhodes' RFC.
reviewed hundreds of pages of Ms. Rhodes' medical history
from her treating and examining physicians. For example, the
ALJ noted that in September 2015, Ms. Rhodes saw a
neurologist for headaches. Tr. 24-25. She had stopped using
Topiramate because she believed it caused her chest pain, but
Excedrin was providing some relief. Id. At that
appointment, the record noted that she was alert and oriented
to person, place, and time; that her recent and remote memory
were fair; that her speech and language functions were
intact; and that she had full strength, intact sensation, and
normal gait. Tr. 318-19. In December 2015, when Ms. Rhodes
presented with having a continuous headache for the last
month with sensitivity to light, sound, and movement, an
examination also revealed that despite her apparent
considerable pain, she was alert and oriented to place and
time, with full strength, and a gait that was “somewhat
slow.” Tr. 708. At a January 2016 appointment, Ms.
Rhodes reported daily headaches, but an examination indicated
no acute distress and noted she was alert, oriented to
person, place, and date, and able to follow and perform
multi-step commands. Tr. 733-737. Over the next year, Ms.
Rhodes continued to present with migraine symptoms, and in
addition to diagnosing migraines and prescribing treatment,
the medical examination reveals similar results with respect
to alertness, memory function, speech function, motor skills,
and gait. See, e.g., Tr. 964-74, 1308-13, 1383-85,
also reviewed the effectiveness of her treatments. At her
January 2016 appointment, Ms. Rhodes was given Botox
injections, and she stated at her February 2016 appointment
that she believed these were helpful. Tr. 740. She received
the same injections again in April, Tr. 1408, and an
occipital nerve block treatment in January 2017 which she
also stated was helpful ...