Epting v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Affirming 18 Report and Recommendation. The Commissioner's determination that Epting was not disabled is affirmed, and Judgment shall enter against the plaintiff and in favor or the Commissioner. Signed by Chief Judge Leonard T Strand on 10/25/2017. (src)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
RANDALL BROOKS EPTING, III,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
AND ORDER ON REPORT AND
This case is before me on a Report & Recommendation (R&R) by the Honorable
C.J. Williams, Chief United States Magistrate Judge. Doc. No. 18. Judge Williams
recommends that I affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying the applications by plaintiff Randall Brooks Epting, III, for
disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq. (Act).
Epting filed timely objections (Doc. No. 19) to the R&R on August 17, 2017. The
procedural history and relevant facts are set forth in the R&R and are repeated herein
only to the extent necessary.
Judicial Review of the Commissioner’s Decision
The Commissioner’s decision must be affirmed “if it is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole.” Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 577 (8th Cir.
2006); 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 as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642,
645 (8th Cir. 2003). The Eighth Circuit explains the standard as “something less than
the weight of the evidence and [that] 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).
To determine whether the Commissioner’s decision meets this standard, the court
considers “all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the
evidence.” Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005). 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. 2010). 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)).
To evaluate 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) (citing Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 188
(8th Cir. 1994)). Instead, if, after reviewing the evidence, the court “find[s] 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 v. Astrue, 547 F.3d 933, 935 (8th
Cir. 2008)). This is true even if 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.
The court may not reverse the Commissioner’s decision “merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.” Baker v. Heckler, 730
F.2d 1147, 1150 (8th Cir. 1984); 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.”).
Review of Report and Recommendation
A district judge must review a magistrate judge’s R&R under the following
Within fourteen days after being served with a copy, any party may serve
and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations
as provided by rules of court. A judge of the court shall make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings
or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also
receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Thus, when a party objects to
any portion of an R&R, the district judge must undertake a de novo review of that portion.
Any portions of an R&R to which no objections have been made must be reviewed
under at least a “clearly erroneous” standard. See, e.g., Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d
793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (noting that when no objections are filed “[the district court
judge] would only have to review the findings of the magistrate judge for clear error”).
As the Supreme Court has explained, “[a] finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although
there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Anderson v. City of
Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co.,
333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). However, a district judge may elect to review an R&R under
a more-exacting standard even if no objections are filed:
Any party that desires plenary consideration by the Article III judge of any
issue need only ask. Moreover, while the statute does not require the judge
to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed, it does not preclude
further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party,
under a de novo or any other standard.
Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). Thus, a district court may review de novo
any issue in a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation at any time. Id. The Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals has “emphasized the necessity . . . of retention by the district
court of substantial control over the ultimate disposition of matters referred to a
magistrate.” Belk v. Purkett, 15 F.3D 803, 815 (8th Cir. 1994). As this court has
previously stated, “[e]ven if the reviewing court must construe objections liberally to
require de novo review, it is clear to this court that there is a distinction between making
an objection and making no objection at all . . . .” Lynch v. Astrue, 687 F. Supp. 2d
841 (2010) (citing Coop. Fin. Assoc. v. Garst, 917 F. Supp. 1356, 1373 (N.D. Iowa
1996)). This court will provide de novo review of all issues that might be addressed by
any objection, but will review for clear error matters to which no objection at all has
Epting alleged disability beginning November 2, 2012, due to numerous conditions
including marked obesity, mood disorder NOS, major depressive disorder recurrent,
generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, bipolar disorder,
Cluster B personality traits, schizoid personality disorder and history of ADHD,
combined type. AR 26. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found Epting was able to
perform past relevant work as a farm worker and, therefore, was not disabled. AR 35.1
The R&R states that the ALJ found Epting could also perform other work such as folder and
marker, citing AR 29, and that a vocational expert testified to the same, citing AR 74. Doc.
No. 18 at 2, 7. In reviewing the ALJ’s decision and the hearing transcript, however, I see no
mention of Epting’s ability to do any work other than his past relevant work.
Epting raises three issues in arguing that the ALJ erred: (1) the ALJ’s opinion was
not supported by substantial evidence on the record, (2) the ALJ improperly rejected
Epting’s subjective allegations and (3) the ALJ failed to give appropriate weight to the
opinions of his treating physicians. Doc. No. 14; Doc. No. 18 at 13. Judge Williams
addressed each argument separately.
With respect to whether the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence,
Judge Williams found that the ALJ properly considered all symptoms reflected in the
medical records and assigned appropriate weight to the medical opinions to the extent
they were consistent with the record as a whole. Doc. No. 18 at 13–14. Judge Williams
[T]he ALJ’s residual functional capacity assessment is supported by the
required substantial medical evidence, and the ALJ gave appropriate weight
to the medical opinions and reconciliation of those opinions with the medical
records. See Fentress v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016, 1017 (8th Cir. 2017)
(holding that a court will uphold a decision to deny benefits if that decision
is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole). In my own
review of the administrative and medical records, I find support for the
ALJ’s conclusion that claimant’s interactions with both Dr. Lassise and Dr.
Roland are inconsistent with the other records and level of claimant’s
functioning. Additionally, I find that the records as a whole do not describe
physical or mental limitations that would support a finding of disability as
defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 731 (8th
Cir. 2016) (holding ALJ’s adverse credibility determination for was
supported by substantial evidence, including the ALJ’s finding that
claimant’s alleged limitations were inconsistent with claimant’s daily
Id. at 14–15.
Regarding the ALJ’s assessment of Epting’s credibility and subjective complaints,
Judge Williams found that the ALJ properly weighed the record and adequately detailed
the inconsistencies between Epting’s testimony and the medical reports. Id. at 16. Judge
Williams noted that the ALJ considered Epting’s work history, ability to attend
appointments, complete household chores and engage in self-care.
Id. at 17.
ultimately found that the ALJ properly assessed Epting’s credibility and, therefore, was
not required to accept his subjective complaints. Id. at 18.
Finally, Judge Williams found that the ALJ properly acted “within his zone of
choice” when weighing the available medical opinions. Id. at 20. The ALJ gave some
weight to the opinion of Mary Beth Hansen, LISW, but did not give her opinion
controlling weight because she was not an acceptable medical source. Id. at 18. The
ALJ found that the opinion of Dr. Mark Lassise was not supported by Epting’s treatment
history or by the objective medical findings. Id. The ALJ gave some weight to Dr.
Carroll Roland’s opinion that Epting could perform a range of unskilled work and gave
considerable weight to her evaluation of Epting’s functioning, but gave less weight to the
parts of the opinion regarding Epting’s emotional instability because that instability was
largely triggered by his parents. Id.at 18–19. The ALJ also gave greater weight to nonexamining physicians’ opinions because they were consistent with the preponderance of
Id. at 19.
Judge Williams concluded that the ALJ’s analysis was
[t]he ALJ relied on the statements of all recorded treating doctors and
examiners, with differential weight assigned to each opinion in his residual
functional capacity analysis. The ALJ conducted an adequate analysis in the
areas of his residual functional capacity assessment that did conform to the
records as a whole.
Id. at 20.
Based on these conclusions, Judge Williams recommends that I affirm the ALJ’s
determination that Epting was not disabled. Id. at 21.
Epting objects to Judge Williams’ findings that (1) the ALJ’s credibility findings
were supported by substantial evidence, (2) the ALJ assigned appropriate weight to the
opinions of Epting’s treating sources and (3) the ALJ’s decision was supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. I will review those issues de novo.
The Credibility Findings
Epting claims that he has great difficulty interacting appropriately with supervisors
and co-workers. Doc. No. 19 at 2. Even though he has worked for short periods of
time, his anxiety and confrontational behavior eventually reaches a point where he quits
or is let go. Id. He claims he becomes physically sick from anxiety and in order to
manage his behavior he has to isolate himself and so cannot function in a competitive
work environment. Id. at 1–2. He argues that it was improper for the ALJ to consider
his daily activities as inconsistent with disability. Id. at 3. He also argues that the ALJ
improperly discounted his mother’s, Angela Epting’s, testimony and function report. Id.
A claimant’s credibility is primarily for the ALJ to decide, but the decision must
be based on substantial evidence. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738 (8th Cir.
2004). The ALJ must make “express credibility determinations” and articulate the
inconsistencies in the record that caused him to reject the plaintiff’s complaints. Id.
When evaluating a claimant’s subjective complaints, the ALJ must consider objective
medical evidence as well as the Polaski factors, which include “(i) [the] claimant’s daily
activities; (ii) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the claimant’s pain; (iii)
precipitating and aggravating factors; (iv) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of
medication; and (v) functional restrictions.” Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802
(8th Cir. 2005) (citing Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984)). The
ALJ may not discount a claimant’s allegations solely because medical evidence does not
fully support them. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 558 (8th Cir. 2011). However,
the ALJ may discount the claimant’s subjective complaints if there are inconsistencies in
the record as a whole. Guilliams, 393 F.3d at 801. The court should defer to the ALJ’s
credibility finding if he explicitly discredits the claimant’s testimony and gives good
reasons for doing so. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 558, citing Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d
959, 968 (8th Cir. 2010).
The ALJ found that Epting’s statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of his symptoms were not entirely credible. AR 33. He observed that
Epting reported improvements with medication management as well as infrequent panic
and anger outbursts. AR 34. Further, his mental status examinations remained stable
throughout the treatment records, his depression was stable with medication, and he had
engaged in daily living activities such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, laundry,
washing dishes, self-care and driving. Id. The ALJ also noted that Epting worked
successfully for one year at a Casey’s General Store before he and his family moved. Id.
“If an ALJ discredits testimony and explicitly gives good reasons for doing so,
[the court] is bound by that judgment unless it is not supported by substantial evidence
on the record as a whole.” Robinson v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 836, 841 (8th Cir. 1992). It
is clear that the ALJ considered the Polaski factors, even if he did not specifically lay out
those factors in his opinion. Contrary to Epting’s argument, a claimant’s daily activities
are one of the factors the ALJ may properly consider when determining credibility.
Inconsistencies between the claimant’s subjective complaints and his daily living activities
can diminish credibility. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696 (8th Cir. 2007).
It is evident that Epting suffers from some amount of anxiety. However, the ALJ
gave specific reasons for discounting Epting’s claims of severity that are supported by
the record, such as the stable mental status examinations (AR 368, 371, 373, 375, 377,
381, 383, 391, 410, 408, 453), medication effectiveness (AR 113, 381, 383, 385, 453,
462, 490), ability to perform daily living activities (AR 89, 489, 494, 498 ) and his work
history (AR 337, 343, 413, 420, 489). These inconsistencies are “good reasons” for
discounting Epting’s subjective complaints. Therefore, I defer to the ALJ’s credibility
With regard to Angela Epting’s testimony, the ALJ must consider other
information regarding a claimant’s symptoms, including statements provided by third
parties. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3); Buckner, 646 F.3d at 559–560. Here, the ALJ
specifically addressed Angela’s statement and found it did not establish that Epting was
disabled. AR 34. He stated that Angela was not medically trained, calling into question
the accuracy of the testimony, and stated that the familial relationship made her an
interested third party. AR 34. Further, like Epting’s own statements, the ALJ found her
testimony was not consistent with the preponderance of opinions and observations of
Thus, the ALJ addressed the third-party evidence and
articulated specific reasons for finding it not credible. The inconsistencies in the record
diminishing Epting’s credibility are the same inconsistencies that provide a basis for
discounting Angela Epting’s credibility. Therefore, I defer to the ALJ’s credibility
determination as to Angela Epting.
The Medical Opinions
Epting argues that the ALJ improperly gave significant weight to the opinion of a
non-examining state agency consultant, Scott Shafer, Ph.D. Doc. No. 19 at 3. He also
argues that the ALJ improperly gave significant weight only to the portion of Dr.
Roland’s opinion that reported normal cognitive functioning while affording less weight
to her finding of marked impairments in interacting with co-workers. Id. Epting further
argues that the ALJ did not give enough weight to the opinions of treating mental health
providers Abbie White, ARNP, Raymond Lang, LISW,2 and Dr. Mark Lassise. Id.
Epting argues that their reports are internally consistent and consistent with other treating
sources. Doc. No. 19 at 4–5. He claims that the ALJ, by citing the treatment notes
instead of the physicians’ conclusions, improperly substituted his own opinion for the
physicians’ opinions. Doc. No 19 at 4. He also contends that the ALJ chose to address
only the opinions that were not consistent with the record as a whole. Doc. No. 19 at 3.
At various points in the ALJ’s opinion, Epting’s briefs and the R&R, Raymond Lang is also
referred to as “Tom” Lang. In the medical records he appears as “Raymond” Lang.
A treating physician’s opinion is entitled to substantial weight, but the
Commissioner may discount or disregard the opinion if other medical assessments are
supported by more thorough or better evidence. Fentress v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016
(8th Cir. 2017). When medical evidence in the record as a whole contradicts the treating
physician’s opinion, that opinion is also afforded less deference. Haggard v. Apfel, 175
F.3d 591, 595 (8th Cir. 1999).
The opinion may be given limited weight if it is
conclusory or inconsistent with the record. Julin v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 1082, 1088 (8th
Cir. 2016). A treating physician’s statements may also be discounted when they are
inconsistent with the overall assessment of that physician or opinions of other physicians.
Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 615 (8th Cir. 2011). Further, the ALJ may discount
the opinion if it is inconsistent with the physician’s own clinical treatment notes.
Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 843 (8th Cir. 2009). The ALJ must give good reasons
for the weight given to the opinion. Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th Cir. 2000);
Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2000). A treating physician’s claim that
the claimant is disabled or unable to work “does not carry any special significance.”
Davidson, 578 F.3d at 842.
Opinions from non-examining sources are generally given less weight than those
of non-examining sources. Willcockson v. Astrue, 540 F.3d 878, 880 (8th Cir. 2008).
Non-examining source opinions do not normally constitute substantial evidence when
they directly conflict with the opinions of treating or examining sources. Shontos v.
Barnhart, 328 F.3d 418, 427 (8th Cir. 2003). Sometimes, however, the opinion of a
non-examining source may outweigh the opinion of a treating source when, for example,
the non-examining source opinion is more consistent with the evidence as a whole. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(f)(1).
Summary of the Medical Opinions
Dr. Carroll Roland. The ALJ gave Dr. Roland’s opinion regarding Epting’s
normal cognitive functioning significant weight and her opinion regarding his marked
social limitations less weight due to documented functional periods of work. AR 35. He
also gave the opinion less weight because of Dr. Roland’s note that Epting’s emotional
issues were triggered by parental involvement. Id.
In a psychological evaluation Dr. Roland conducted on July 18, 2015, Epting
reported to her that he could not cope with coworkers and his condition was getting
worse. AR 487. Dr. Roland noted that Epting had worked for sixth months as a night
time security guard but quit due to conflicts with supervisors. AR 489. He had also
worked at an egg farm before quitting due to conflicts with coworkers and supervisors,
but had successfully worked for one year at a Casey’s General Store until his family
moved. AR 489. She noted that during the examination he was cooperative, responsive
and focused, but restless. AR 490, 491. She further stated that with medication, Epting’s
depression was in the mild range and he is most likely to be volatile and angry when his
She stated that his judgment was intact and he
understood basic societal mores. AR 491. She ultimately concluded that his ability to
interact with the public, supervisors and co-workers was markedly impaired. AR 499.
Abbie White, ARNP. The ALJ gave little weight to White’s opinion that Epting
was not responding to treatments and that his condition had worsened. AR 34. The ALJ
stated that White’s opinion was “internally inconsistent with the stability of mental status
examinations as well as the reported response to treatment interventions.” Id.
February 2013, Abbie White and Raymond Lang stated in a letter to the Metropolitan
Life Insurance Company (MetLife) that Epting’s observable symptoms had worsened and
that the severity of his impairments prevented any activity outside the home. AR 439–
White’s treatment notes begin in October 2012. AR 368. She noted that Epting
was pleasant and cooperative, with good eye contact, but became irritated with his
mother. AR 369. She noted that he had fair insight and concentration, and believed it
would even improve more if his mother was absent. Id. These same mental status
characteristics remained consistent throughout her treatment notes, spanning just over a
year. AR 371, 373, 375, 377, 381, 383, 385, 391, 408, 410. In December 2012, White
noted that Epting continued to vomit daily and remained home to avoid people. AR 373.
In January 2013, he reported high levels of anxiety. AR 375. In the MetLife letter,
White noted that Epting’s symptoms had worsened and his anxiety dramatically impaired
his daily functioning. AR 439. He had been unable to drive and remained isolated in
his parents’ home. Id. She reported that at the previous four appointments, various
medications have been changed or adjusted and he was not effectively responding to
treatment. AR 440. However, in May 2013, White’s notes indicate that Epting had
decreased anxiety and less frequent vomiting. AR 381. By July his anxiety improved
and he was able to drive places. AR 383. He could apply for jobs without vomiting,
even though his mother reported he became more anxious in social situations. AR 393.
In February 2014, White’s notes state that Epting was unable to keep a job because of an
inability to be around people even though his panic attacks had lessened. AR 408.
Raymond Lang, LISW. The ALJ also gave little weight to Lang’s opinion
(signed with Abbie White) that Epting’s dysfunctional behaviors did not improve during
therapy and his symptoms had worsened. AR 34. However, the ALJ did give some
weight to Lang’s statement that Epting sustained functional periods, and gave some
weight to Lang’s finding as to “the commonalty of emotionally-driven behaviors when
associated with parental involvement.” Id. The ALJ gave the opinions only some weight
based on a finding that they were internally inconsistent. Id.
Lang’s treatment notes began in September 2012. AR 337-50. In those notes, he
stated that Epting was focused and appropriate, with no indication of aggressive ideation
towards others. AR 351, 352, 390. However, he also noted that Epting reported the
medications have not helped with anxiety and he struggled with panic attacks and
vomiting. AR 356, 361, 362, 430. When taking more than prescribed dosage, Epting
reported that he felt like his “old self.” AR 362. Lang noted Epting’s high irritability.
AR 428, 429, 430.
In December 2013, Lang reported lessened panic attacks and that Epting was
compliant with medications. AR 430. In April 2015, Lang noted that Epting was
“comfortable” with a recent change to the position of groundskeeper at the factory his
father managed and experienced lessened panic attacks. AR 413. In a letter to Epting’s
counsel dated July 15, 2015, Lang concluded that Epting had a history of functioning
somewhat adequately for a limited time in a competitive employment environment but
would then decline. AR 483. However, in the same letter he said that Epting’s patterns
of dysfunctional emotional behaviors had not improved since 2012. AR 484.
Dr. Mark Lassise. The ALJ gave Dr. Lassise’s statement that Epting was poor
at adjusting to work and social situations partial weight because it was “not fully
supported by the treatment history given the stability of mental status examinations.” AR
35. Dr. Lassise’s treatment notes began in April 2014. AR 458. He noted some
irritability and anxiety but stated that, overall, Epting was cooperative. AR 456, 444.
In December 2014, he noted that Epting felt he was doing well on the present medication.
AR 446. However, in his medical source statement, Dr. Lassise concluded that Epting
had poor ability to make occupational and performance adjustments and had no ability to
relate predictably in social situations. AR 466.
Scott Shafer, Ph.D. The ALJ gave significant weight to the state agency medical
and psychological opinions because they were generally consistent with the
“preponderance of the medical record,” the physical and mental status examinations and
the noted response to treatment. AR 35. Dr. Shafer completed a mental residual
functional capacity assessment on Epting. AR 89, 100. He reviewed Epting’s medical
records and noted that Epting suffered from panic attacks resulting in vomiting in 2012.
AR 89. He followed up with therapy and medication and in 2013 he reported the
medication was effective and he was looking for work. AR 89. During a visit in 2013
he was pleasant and cooperative and was applying for jobs without vomiting. AR 89.
It is the ALJ’s duty to resolve conflicts between medical opinions and determine
the weight given to each opinion. Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 20020)
The ALJ must evaluate the record as a whole, and a treating physician’s ultimate opinion
does not automatically control if inconsistent with the overall record. Reed v. Barnhart,
399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005). The ALJ did not completely disregard the treating
physicians’ opinion, but did give them less than substantial weight. There are enough
inconsistencies in the record to support the weight the ALJ assigned to each opinion.
Epting did present serious anxiety and panic attacks in 2012, particularly with the
emergency admission to Spencer Hospital. AR 322–35, 356, 368, 371, 373. However,
throughout 2013 there were multiple indications from the treating physicians’ treatment
notes that he felt better with medication and the instances of panic attacks, vomiting, and
anxiety had decreased with that medication. AR 377, 381, 383, 385, 393, 430, 490.
Epting started to drive again and expressed a desire to return to work and could
apply for jobs without vomiting. AR 383, 393. Further, the mental status examinations
throughout Epting’s treatment history generally noted a cooperative demeanor with a
AR 369, 371, 373, 375, 377, 381, 383, 385, 391, 408, 410.
documented instances of irritability came when his mother accompanied him to
appointments and he discussed his father. AR 342, 344, 351, 354, 364, 369, 390. Abbie
White indicated those instances would decrease if his mother was not present. AR 369.
When Epting interacted with staff during appointments he exhibited appropriate behavior.
AR 332, 369, 372, 374, 379, 381.
Based on the record before me, I find that no error in the ALJ’s evaluation of the
medical opinion evidence.
The ALJ identified inconsistencies between the treating
physicians’ opinions and their clinical notes, as well as with other medical evidence in
the record. AR 34-35. In light of those inconsistencies, and the ALJ’s review of the
record as a whole, the ALJ was entitled to give less than full weight to the opinions of
Epting’s treating providers and significant weight to the non-treating source’s opinion. I
find no basis to disturb the ALJ’s conclusions.
Substantial Evidence in the Record as a Whole
Epting argues that the medical record makes clear that he cannot work in a
competitive work environment and becomes physically sick from anxiety. Doc. No. 19
at 1. He claims Judge Williams did not properly apply the substantial evidence test
because he did not account for evidence that detracted from the ALJ’s decision. Doc.
No. 19 at 2.
A court must affirm the Commissioner’s decision when it is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 853 (8th
Cir. 2015). When reviewing the ALJ’s decision, the court must take into account
evidence that both supports the decision and detracts from it. Kluesner v. Astrue, 607,
F.3d 533, 536 (8th Cir. 2010). The substantial evidence standard allows for drawing
two inconsistent conclusions. Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994).
The court may not reverse the ALJ’s decision simply because it may have reached a
different conclusion or because substantial evidence supports a contrary conclusion.
Fentress v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016, 1021 (8th Cir. 2017). “Substantial evidence is
relevant evidence which a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the
Commissioner’s conclusion.” Haggard, 175 F.3d at 594.
Here, as summarized above, there is evidence in the record that both detracts from
and supports the ALJ’s decision. However, having found no error in the ALJ’s credibility
determinations or the weight given the medical opinions, and in my review of the record
I find that there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support the ALJ’s
decision. The Commissioner’s decision cannot be reversed simply because the evidence
might also support a contrary outcome. Haggard, 175 F.3d at 594. On balance, the
record reasonably supports the ALJ’s decision that Epting’s limitations do not reach the
level of disability within the meaning of the Act.
For the reasons set forth herein:
Plaintiff’s objections (Doc. No. 19) to the Report and Recommendation
(Doc. No. 18) are overruled
I accept the Report and Recommendation without modification. See 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Pursuant to Judge Williams’ recommendation:
The Commissioner’s determination that Epting was not disabled is
Judgment shall enter against plaintiff and in favor of the
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 25th day of October, 2017.
Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge
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