Reinhardt v. Commissioner of Social Security
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS recommending the district court affirm the Commissioner's decision re 4 Complaint filed by Melissa Reinhardt. Objections to R&R due by 4/3/2017. Signed by Magistrate Judge CJ Williams on 3/20/2017. (pac)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
MELISSA M. REINHARDT,
No. 16-CV-1030 LRR
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
The claimant, Melissa M. Reinhardt (claimant), seeks judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her
application for supplemental disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Act). Claimant contends that the Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) erred in determining she was not disabled.
For the reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court affirm the
Claimant was born on September 1, 1989, and was 25 years old at the time of the
ALJ’s decision. (AR 35).1 Claimant completed high school and is able to communicate
in English. Id.
“AR” refers to the administrative record below.
Claimant applied for benefits on December 3, 2014, alleging disability since
January 1, 2008,2 due to several mental conditions. (AR 151, 174). After a hearing on
March 28, 2016, the ALJ ruled against claimant on April 13, 2016. (AR 26-35, 41).
Claimant filed a request for review, which the Appeals Council denied on June 3, 2016.
(AR 1). Thus, the ALJ’s decision is the Commissioner’s final decision. Sims v. Apfel,
530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
On July 29, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court. (Doc. 4). The parties
have briefed the issues, and on February 13, 2017, this case was deemed fully submitted.
(Doc. 19). On the same day, the Honorable Linda R. Reade referred this case to me for
a Report and Recommendation.
DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF
A disability is defined as “the 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.
An individual has a disability when, due to his/her physical or mental impairments, he/she
“is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education,
and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists
. . . in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several
regions of the country.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). If a claimant is able to perform
work which exists in the national economy but is unemployed because of inability to get
work, lack of opportunities in the local area, economic conditions, employer hiring
With Title XVI, claimant may not receive benefits for any time prior to when she filed her
application. 20 C.F.R. § 416.335.
practices, or other factors, the ALJ will still find the claimant not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Act,
the Commissioner follows the five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir.
2007). First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant’s work activity. If a claimant
is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial” work activity involves significant mental or physical
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). “Gainful” activity is work done for pay or profit,
even if the claimant does not ultimately receive pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b).
Second, if a claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the
Commissioner looks to the severity of the claimant’s physical and medical impairments.
If the impairments are not severe, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment is not severe if “it does not significantly limit your
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707.
The ability to perform basic work activities means having “the abilities and
aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). These abilities and
aptitudes include: “(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting,
pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeing, hearing,
and speaking; (3) [u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions;
(4) [u]se of judgment; (5) [r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and
usual work situations; and (6) [d]ealing with changes in a routine work setting.” Id. §
404.1521(b)(1)-(6); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987).
Third, if a claimant has a severe impairment, then the Commissioner will
determine the medical severity of the impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one
of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant is
considered disabled regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d); see Kelley v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir.
Fourth, if a claimant’s impairment is severe, but it does not meet or equal one of
the presumptively disabling impairments, then the Commissioner will assess the
claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC) and the demands of the claimant’s past
relevant work. If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, then the claimant is
considered not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4). Past relevant
work is any work the claimant has done within the past 15 years of his/her application
that was substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how
to do it. 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(b)(1). “RFC is a medical question defined wholly in
terms of the claimant’s physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other words,
what the claimant can still do despite his or her physical or mental limitations.” Lewis
v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The RFC is based on all
relevant medical and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The claimant is
responsible for providing the evidence the Commissioner will use to determine the RFC.
Id. If a claimant retains enough RFC to perform past relevant work, then the claimant is
not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
Fifth, if the claimant’s RFC, as determined in Step Four, will not allow the
claimant to perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
show there is other work the claimant can do, given the claimant’s RFC, age, education,
and work experience. See Bladow v. Apfel, 205 F.3d 356, 358 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). The
Commissioner must show not only that the claimant’s RFC will allow him or her to make
the adjustment to other work, but also that other work exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the
Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). At
Step Five, the Commissioner has the responsibility of developing the claimant’s complete
medical history before making a determination about the existence of a disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on the
claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).
If after these five steps, the ALJ has determined the claimant is disabled, but there
is medical evidence of substance use disorders, the ALJ must decide if that substance use
was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.
42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(C). The ALJ must then evaluate the extent of the claimant’s limitations without
the substance use. Id. If the limitations would not be disabling, then the disorder is a
contributing factor material to determining disability, and the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1535.
THE ALJ’S FINDINGS
At Step One, the ALJ found claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since November 3, 2014, the application date.
At Step Two, the ALJ found claimant had the following severe impairments:
bipolar disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, and major
depressive disorder recurrent and moderate.
At Step Three, the ALJ found claimant did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
At Step Four, the ALJ found claimant had the residual functional capacity “to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional
limitations: she would be limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, involving simple
work related decisions. She could have occasional contact with supervisors and co-
workers, but she could have no contact with the general public.” The ALJ found that
with this RFC, claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work.
At Step Five, the ALJ found there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy claimant could perform, and therefore was not disabled.
THE SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE STANDARD
A court must affirm the Commissioner’s decision “‘if the ALJ’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.” Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d
847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Juszczyk v. Astrue, 542 F.3d 626, 631 (8th Cir. 2008));
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”). “Substantial
evidence” is “less than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind might accept
it as adequate to support a decision.” Wright, 542 F.3d at 852 (quoting Juszczyk, 542
F.3d at 631).
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained the standard as
“something less than the weight of the evidence and allows for the possibility of drawing
two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the
[Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal
on appeal.” Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation
In determining whether the Commissioner’s decision meets this standard, the court
considers “all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but we do not re-weigh the
evidence.” Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal citation
omitted). The court considers both evidence which supports the Commissioner’s decision
and evidence that detracts from it. Kluesner v. Astrue, 607 F.3d 533, 536 (8th Cir.
The court must “search the record for evidence contradicting the
[Commissioner’s] decision and give that evidence appropriate weight when determining
whether the overall evidence in support is substantial.” Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d
549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Cline v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 560, 564 (8th Cir. 1991)).
In evaluating the evidence in an appeal of a denial of benefits, the court must apply
a balancing test to assess any contradictory evidence. Sobania v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 879 F.2d 441, 444 (8th Cir. 1989). The court, however, does not
“reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ,” Baldwin, 349 F.3d at 555 (citing Bates v.
Chater, 54 F.3d 529, 532 (8th Cir. 1995)), or “review the factual record de novo.” Roe
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186,
188 (8th Cir. 1994)). Instead, if after reviewing the evidence, the court finds it “possible
to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those positions represents
the Commissioner’s findings, [the court] must affirm the [Commissioner’s] denial of
benefits.” Kluesner, 607 F.3d at 536 (quoting Finch, 547 F.3d at 935). This is true
even in cases where the court “might have weighed the evidence differently.”
Culbertson, 30 F.3d at 939 (quoting Browning v. Sullivan, 958 F.2d 817, 822 (8th Cir.
1992)). The court may not reverse the Commissioner’s decision “simply because some
evidence may support the opposite conclusion.” Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 892, 897
(8th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
See also Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir. 2005) (“[A]n administrative decision is not subject
to reversal simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.” (internal
Claimant argues the ALJ’s decision is flawed for two reasons:
The ALJ erred in failing to properly assess the medical opinions.
(Doc. 15, at 2-8).
The ALJ erred in failing to properly assess her subjective complaints.
(Doc. 15, at 8-14).
I will address these arguments separately below.
ALJ’s Weighing of Medical Opinions
Claimant argues the ALJ erred by not properly weighing the medical opinions.
The ALJ decided to give some, but not controlling, weight to a July 2015 assessment by
Brian Proctor, M.D. The ALJ did not fully credit it because Dr. Proctor had seen
claimant only three times, and because the medical tests and observations, which the ALJ
cited, were inconsistent with Dr. Proctor’s proposed limitations. (AR 32).
Dr. Proctor had seen claimant three times, including the time he completed the
questionnaire. (AR 474). He treated claimant with medication. (AR 474). Dr. Proctor
described his clinical findings as: “Depressed mood, anxiety, unable to tolerate stresses
of work environment without severe panic attacks.” (AR 474). This is not consistent
with his own or others’ observations or testing. In sixteen unskilled work aptitudes, Dr.
Proctor rated claimant as seriously limited in five areas, and having no work-related
ability at all in eleven areas. (AR 476). Although the form asked Dr. Proctor to explain
his ratings and to “include the medical/clinical findings that support this assessment,”
Dr. Proctor left this space blank. (AR 276-77). Dr. Proctor checked that claimant’s
impairments or treatment would cause her to be absent more than four days a month.
The ALJ weighed the number of times Dr. Proctor saw claimant when considering
his evaluation. The ALJ should take into account the length of treatment and the number
of visits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2).
A treating physician is different from other medical sources and his opinion could
receive controlling weight, weight the regulations do not accord to any other medical
opinion. Thus, an ALJ evaluates a treating physician’s opinion using additional analysis.
A treating physician’s opinion is due controlling weight if it is well-supported by clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence. Hogan v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2001). Claimant’s two treatment
visits and one evaluation visit with Dr. Proctor weakened the persuasiveness of Dr.
Proctor’s evaluation. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a finding that a doctor
was not a treating physician because, inter alia, he saw the patient only three times.
Randolph v. Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 840 (8th Cir. 2004).
Dr. Proctor’s two treatment notes had observations inconsistent with his own
conclusions but consistent with evaluations from James Meyer, Psy.D., and Carroll
Roland, Ph.D., and treatment records from Colleen Teynor, LMSW, all of which
supported the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding. (AR 32). In March 2015, Dr.
Proctor saw claimant on a referral from Dr. Meyer for an assessment of her attention
deficit disorder. (AR 472). Dr. Proctor described claimant in both March and April
2015 as anxious and depressed, but having intact judgment; good insight; normal speech
and ability to abstract; and coherent, logical, and goal directed thoughts. (AR 470, 473).
Dr. Proctor’s mental status examinations are clinical findings.
20 C.F.R. §
Neither of Dr. Proctor’s mental status examinations described or
suggested the severe limitations Dr. Proctor offered in his opinion. See Milam v. Colvin,
794 F.3d 978, 983 (8th Cir. 2015) (opinion in conflict with treatment records). Although
the ALJ did not cite to Dr. Proctor’s treatment records, he did consider the entire record
and Dr. Proctor’s treatment notes cannot be seen as consistent with Dr. Proctor’s opinion.
The ALJ cited to fourteen records showing claimant had better functioning than
Dr. Proctor suggested. (AR 31-32, citing Exhibit 7F at 5, 20; AR 406-21). Two of
these records showed medication alleviated claimant’s symptoms. In July 2014, claimant
told Robert Key, M.D., that Sertraline helped with her anxiety. (AR 406). In September
2014, claimant told Dr. Key that Zoloft and Buspar helped with racing thoughts and
It is relevant that medication reduced claimant’s
symptoms. Bernard v. Colvin, 774 F.3d 482, 488 (8th Cir. 2014).
The ALJ also reviewed Ms. Teynor’s therapy records, which showed that on
twelve occasions, claimant’s response to treatment was good and her level of distress was
mild. (AR 31, citing Exhibit 16-F; AR 497-98, 500-13). Given this evidence, the ALJ
observed an inconsistency between the clinical records and Dr. Proctor’s opinion. (AR
32). See Milam, 794 F.3d at 983. The ALJ also discussed other objective evidence
showing better functioning than claimant alleges in her arguments to the Court. (AR 31).
See Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 970 (8th Cir. 2010) (ALJ’s narrative explanation
elsewhere in decision may illuminate other findings); Owen v. Astrue, 551 F.3d 792, 801
(8th Cir. 2008) (similar). In determining claimant’s residual functional capacity, the ALJ
cited the clinical findings in a January 2015 evaluation by Dr. Meyer, a report claimant
ignores in her arguments to the Court. (AR 31, citing Exhibit 6F; AR 399). As
previously noted, Dr. Meyer referred claimant to Dr. Proctor (AR 399-401), and other
psychologists, upon whom the ALJ explicitly relied. (AR 31-32, 73, 270).
In contrast to Dr. Proctor’s opinion, Dr. Meyer observed that claimant was alert,
oriented, cooperative, and responsive, and that claimant had normal thoughts and intact
cognitive function. (AR 400). Although claimant alleged impaired concentration, Dr.
Meyer found “she is able to generally represent herself in this setting. . ..” (AR 400).
Dr. Meyer also found claimant’s memory appeared intact, her intelligence average, and
that she displayed fair to good insight and judgment. Dr. Meyer saw no evidence of
thought disturbance, though she was distractible and had attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder. (AR 400).
In summary, Dr. Meyer’s evaluation was generally consistent with claimant’s
treatment notes and other evaluations, save the clinically unsupported ones of Dr. Proctor
and Ms. Teynor. See Vonbusch v. Apfel, 132 F. Supp.2d 785, 798 (D. Neb. 2001) (citing
the lack of objective clinical findings, diagnostic testing, and psychological evaluation).
In addition to Dr. Meyer’s and Dr. Proctor’s reports, the ALJ analyzed claimant’s
allegations, testimony, third party statements, medical evaluations, and treatment notes
in arriving at the residual functional capacity finding. (AR 30-35).
When evaluating the evidence, the ALJ also gave great weight to a consultative
examination by Dr. Roland, a psychologist, who specifically referenced Dr. Meyer’s
report. (AR 31, 270). Dr. Roland concluded claimant’s test results were consistent with
severe depression and that she needed medications.
In addition to
reviewing Dr. Meyer’s opinion, Dr. Roland interviewed claimant and reviewed her
function report and some medical history. (AR 270). Claimant lived with her two
children, drove, and performed her own shopping, cooking, laundry, and house cleaning.
Dr. Roland described claimant as cooperative, fully oriented, and
Dr. Roland found claimant’s attention was
appropriate, concentration was fair, memory was intact, and thoughts were goal directed.
(AR 273-74). Claimant demonstrated abstract thinking ability and performed well on
one calculation test and had difficulty with another one. (AR 274).
Consistent with the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding, claimant’s testing
performance with Dr. Roland suggested the ability to remember two and perhaps three
step instructions. (AR 274). Dr. Roland said claimant understood basic societal norms
and had sufficient memory and intellectual functioning for employment. (AR 275). Dr.
Roland’s opinion was more detailed than Dr. Proctor’s and supported the ALJ’s residual
functional capacity finding that claimant could perform simple tasks with no public
contact. (AR 30). See Cantrell v. Apfel, 231 F.3d 1104, 1107 (8th Cir. 2000) (similar
The ALJ gave supported reasons for giving partial weight to an opinion by Ms.
Teynor, LCSW. (AR 32, 479-81). The ALJ weighed the fact that Ms. Teynor did not
qualify as a medical source3, that her opinion was inconsistent with her treatment notes,
and that it was inconsistent with the record. (AR 32). These are recognized reasons for
discounting a therapist’s opinion.
In her July 2015 opinion, Ms. Teynor filled out the same form completed by Dr.
Proctor. (AR 479). She stated she had seen claimant for ten sessions over nine months
for cognitive behavioral therapy and that claimant responded when she worked
consistently on her issues.4 (AR 479). According to Ms. Teynor, claimant had problems
with stress, attention to detail, and emotional reactivity, and becoming aggressive when
upset or overwhelmed. (AR 479). Ms. Teynor endorsed a number of symptoms and
rated claimant as having no useful ability in eleven work related areas. (AR 481). Ms.
Teynor cited as her medical/clinical findings that claimant got upset easily about criticism
and workplace changes and could not maintain consistent attendance (AR 481), though
these seemed more likely to be claimant’s account than Ms. Teynor’s observations. Ms.
Teynor wrote that claimant would become sporadically angry and uncontrolled when
overwhelmed and she would be absent from work more than four days a month. (AR
The ALJ’s decision to give less weight to Ms. Teynor’s opinion was specific and
well supported. The ALJ found Ms. Teynor’s opinion inconsistent with her treatment
notes showing that on twelve different occasions, claimant’s response to treatment was
good and her overall distress level was mild. (AR 32). See Milam, 794 F.3d at 983
A physician or a psychologist, not a therapist, is an “acceptable medical source” under the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(a)(1-6). Only an acceptable medical source can establish a
medically determinable impairment. Id.
Ms. Teynor’s file showed claimant did not consistently work on her issues. Ms. Teynor
observed in October and December 2015 that claimant had not been using strategies for calming
herself and reducing anxiety and pain. (AR 498, 500-03).
(opinion due less weight because it conflicted with treatment notes). The ALJ cited to
almost every therapy session Ms. Teynor conducted with claimant, noting their conflict
with Ms. Teynor’s opinion. (AR 32). The ALJ’s finding that claimant’s admitted
activities undermined Ms. Teynor’s opinion to the extent that it merited partial, but not
full, weight. (AR 32). See Toland v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 931, 936 (8th Cir. 2014).
Although she had help, by her own and her mother’s account, claimant was the sole
caretaker of three young children,5 and performed cooking, driving, shopping, paying
bills, cleaning, and doing laundry. (AR 32, 185-87, 193-95). These activities suggest
greater functioning than Ms. Teynor alleged. The ALJ gave supported reasons for not
fully crediting Ms. Teynor’s opinion. Mabry v. Colvin, 815 F.3d 386, 391 (8th Cir.
2016) (“[t]he interpretation of physicians’ findings is a factual matter left to the ALJ’s
The evidence supported the ALJ’s finding that the reviewing psychologists’
opinions should receive great weight. The ALJ acknowledged that as a general matter,
reviewing physicians’ opinions do not merit as much weight as examining and treating
physicians’ opinions. But in claimant’s specific case, the reviewing opinions were more
relevant and more closely tied to the record. (AR 66-70).
The first reviewing psychologist, Aidzuz Tirado, Psy.D., gave detailed, supported
explanations for her conclusions that were consistent with other probative evidence. (AR
32, 66-70, 80-87).
In March 2015, Dr. Tirado reviewed records from Memorial
Hospital, Great River Community Medical Clinic, Crossing Rivers Health Clinic, Mayo
Clinic Behavioral Health, and claimant’s application documents. (AR 65-67). Dr. Tirado
stated claimant’s allegations about her functional limitations were not substantiated by the
objective medical evidence alone. (AR 70). When rating claimant’s ability for sustained
Connie Reinhardt, claimant’s mother, stated that sometimes claimant took care of her, Ms.
work activities, Dr. Tirado concluded claimant had no significant limitations in
remembering work-like procedures and short and simple instructions; carrying out short
and simple instructions and activities within a schedule; maintaining regular attendance;
sustaining an ordinary routine; and working in coordination with others. (AR 71-72).
Claimant had moderate limitations related to detailed instructions, interacting with others,
and completing a normal work week. (AR 71-72).
Dr. Tirado noted that the SSA employee who took claimant’s application did not
observe any issues. (AR 73, see AR 171). Dr. Tirado also credited Dr. Roland’s
consultative report because it was consistent with claimant’s treatment records, Dr.
Meyer’s January 2015 opinion, and claimant’s activities. (AR 73, 193-95, 400). These
reports conflicted with claimant’s subjective complaints, which Dr. Tirado thought were
only partially credible. (AR 73). Dr. Tirado concluded claimant could understand and
complete one to two step commands in a sustained manner. Claimant would do best in a
low stress environment with minimal social demands and the ability to perform a wide
range of simple and routine work activities. (AR 74, 76). These observations were
consistent with the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding.
In June 2015, the second State psychologist, Lon Olsen, Ph.D., reviewed
claimant’s function report, and records from Franciscan Skemp Health Care, Behavioral
Health Services, Memorial Hospital, Great River Community Medical Clinic, Crossing
Rivers Health Clinic, Mayo Clinic Behavioral Health, and Dr. Roland. (AR 80-82).
Like Dr. Tirado, Dr. Olsen thought claimant’s symptoms could not be explained only by
objective evidence and that she was only partially credible.
assessments also mirrored those of Dr. Tirado. (AR 84-87).
Dr. Olsen also believed
that if claimant had no public contact and low social demands, she was capable of simple,
repetitive tasks. (AR 87).
The ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Tirado’s and Dr. Olsen’s opinions because
“there exist a number of other reasons to reach similar conclusions (as explained
throughout this decision).” (AR 32). The ALJ’s cited reasons throughout his decision
were Dr. Meyer’s evaluation (AR 31, 400), claimant’s positive response to medication
(AR 31, 406, 421), Ms. Teynor’s therapy records (AR 31, 406-21), Dr. Roland’s
consultative evaluation (AR 31, 270-75), and claimant’s activities (AR 32, 185-87, 19395, 273).
Because the ALJ gave supported reasons for the weight he assigned to Dr.
Tirado’s and Dr. Olsen’s opinions, the Court should defer to his evaluation. See Grable,
770 F.3d at 1201-02.
The ALJ noted that a non-examining psychologist’s opinion is “generally” not
entitled to as much weight as a treating doctor’s, but claimant’s case was different. (AR
32). In appropriate circumstances, opinions from State agency psychologists may be
entitled to greater weight than the opinions of treating or examining sources. SSR 96-6p
1996 WL 374180, at *3. The amount of evidence the State psychologist reviews is
relevant. See id. Further, it is relevant if the reviewed evidence contains a specialist’s
medical report providing more detailed and comprehensive information than was
available to the treating source. Id. Dr. Tirado and Dr. Olsen had access to almost all
of claimant’s records, including Dr. Roland’s and Dr. Meyer’s evaluations, which were
much more detailed than Dr. Proctor’s. “Certainly, there are circumstances in which
relying on a non-treating physician’s opinion is proper,” and the ALJ made a supported
decision that claimant’s case was one of them. Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1016
(8th Cir. 2010). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an ALJ may rely
upon state agency opinions after properly rejecting the treating source evidence. See
Smith v. Colvin, 756 F.3d 612, 626-27 (8th Cir. 2014). Considering everything, the ALJ
properly weighed the medical opinions.
The ALJ’s Credibility Determination
Claimant next argues the ALJ erred in failing to give significant weight to
claimant’s subjective complaints. When determining residual functional capacity, the
ALJ must evaluate a claimant’s credibility regarding her subjective complaints. Pearsall
v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1218 (8th Cir. 2001). In doing so, the ALJ must consider
objective medical evidence and any evidence relating to a claimant’s daily activities;
duration, frequency and intensity of pain; precipitating and aggravating factors; dosage,
effectiveness and side effects of medication; and functional restrictions.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). The ALJ does not have to discuss each
Polaski factor as long as the ALJ recognizes and considers the Polaski analytical
framework, as he did here. (AR 14-15). Tucker v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 781, 783 (8th
Cir. 2004) (“The ALJ is not required to discuss each Polaski factor as long as the
analytical framework is recognized and considered”).
Credibility of a claimant’s
subjective testimony is primarily for the ALJ, not the reviewing court, to decide.
Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1218.
The evidence showed claimant’s subjective allegations were not entirely credible.
The ALJ articulated his reasoning on this point and provided citations to the record. (AR
33-34). In analyzing a claimant’s subjective complaints, an ALJ considers objective facts
such as the claimant’s daily activities; the duration and intensity of the condition,
precipitating factors, and functional restrictions. Polaski at 1322. Other factors include
the claimant’s work history and objective medical evidence. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d
793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001).
The ALJ considered such factors when evaluating claimant’s believability and he
agreed that claimant had some limitations. (AR 33). He found claimant’s daily activities
were not as limited as one would expect given her complaints. (AR 33). See Turpin v.
Colvin, 750 F.3d 989, 994 (8th Cir. 2014) (subjective complaints inconsistent with daily
activities). Claimant was a full-time caretaker to her three children, and, according to
claimant and her mother, she could prepare meals, and perform cleaning, laundry, dish
washing, driving, going out alone, managing her money, and shopping in stores. (AR
33, 195). Heino v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 873, 881 (8th Cir. 2009) (ability to take care of
others); Johnston v. Colvin, No. 13–CV–2710 (VEC)(FM), 2015 WL 1266895, at *2
(S.D. N.Y. Mar. 18, 2015) (the claimant performed volunteer work and was the primary
caretaker for three young children). Moreover, the record shows that claimant attended
community college and, after taking medication, her grades were good enough to make
the Dean’s list. (AR 399, 519). Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 188 (8th Cir. 1997)
(ability to attend school was relevant). Therefore, I find the ALJ did not err in the
weighing of medical opinions, or in evaluating the credibility of claimant’s subjective
For the reasons set forth herein, I respectfully recommend the District Court
affirm the Commissioner’s determination that claimant was not disabled, and enter
judgment against claimant and in favor of the Commissioner.
Parties must file objections to this Report and Recommendation within fourteen
(14) days of the service of a copy of this Report and Recommendation, in accordance
with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and FED. R. CIV. P. 72(b). Objections must specify the parts
of the Report and Recommendation to which objections are made, as well as the parts of
the record forming the basis for the objections. See FED. R. CIV. P. 72. Failure to object
to the Report and Recommendation waives the right to de novo review by the district
court of any portion of the Report and Recommendation as well as the right to appeal
from the findings of fact contained therein. United States v. Wise, 588 F.3d 531, 537
n.5 (8th Cir. 2009).
IT IS SO ORDERED this 20th day of March, 2017.
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Northern District of Iowa
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