Bonner v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER... IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the relief sought by Plaintiff in her Complaint, Brief in Support of Complaint, and Reply (Docs. 1 , 13 , 17 ) is DENIED; IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a separate judgment be entered incorporating this Memorandum and Order. Signed by Magistrate Judge Noelle C. Collins on 1/5/2016. (NEB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
LA VAUNCE BONNER,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
Case No. 4:14CV1951NCC
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the
final decision of the Commissioner denying the application of La Vaunce Bonner
(Plaintiff) for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security
Income (SSI), under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et
seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint. (Doc. 13). Defendant
has filed a brief in support of the Answer. (Doc. 16). Plaintiff has filed a Reply.
(Doc. 17). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United
States Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 8).
On March 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 12,
149-61). Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of June 30, 2010.1 Plaintiff’s
applications were denied, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 12, 52-53). After a hearing, by decision, dated August 28,
2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 12-23). On October 9, 2014, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1-5). As such, the
ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
Under the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a five-step
process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920,
404.1529. “‘If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the evaluation of
disability, the process ends and the claimant is determined to be not disabled.’”
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Eichelberger v.
Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful activity” to qualify for
disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant
must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social
Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to February 25, 2012, the date that a
previous ALJ issued an opinion finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 14, 33, 175).
Security Act defines “severe impairment” as “any impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limits [claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities.” Id. “The sequential evaluation process may be terminated
at step two only when the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments
would have no more than a minimal impact on [his or] her ability to work.” Page
v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v. Massanari,
250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31
(8th Cir. 1996)).
Third, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the Regulations. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d); pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has one of, or
the medical equivalent of, these impairments, then the claimant is per se disabled
without consideration of the claimant’s age, education, or work history. See id.
Fourth, the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f), 404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at
this fourth step to establish his or her Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). See
Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008) (“Through step four of this
analysis, the claimant has the burden of showing that she is disabled.”);
Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 590-91; Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th
Cir. 2004); Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). The ALJ
will review a claimant’s RFC and the physical and mental demands of the work the
claimant has done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
Fifth, the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing any other
work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g), 404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential
analysis, the Commissioner has the burden of production to show evidence of other
jobs in the national economy that can be performed by a person with the claimant’s
RFC. See Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3; Young, 221 F.3d at 1069 n.5. If the
claimant meets these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled.
“The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however, remains with the
claimant.” Id. See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926, 931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004)
(citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d
801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove disability and to
demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant, even when the burden of production
shifts to the Commissioner at step five.”); Charles v. Barnhart, 375 F.3d 777, 782
n.5 (8th Cir. 2004) (“[T]he burden of production shifts to the Commissioner at step
five to submit evidence of other work in the national economy that [the claimant]
could perform, given her RFC.”).
Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ’s decision, the decision must be
affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence. See Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d
65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but is
enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the
Commissioner’s conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th
Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). In Bland v.
Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
The concept of substantial evidence is something less than the weight
of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two
inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within
which the Secretary may decide to grant or deny benefits without
being subject to reversal on appeal.
See also Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 885 (8th Cir. 2006) (“[W]e may not
reverse merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.”)
(quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)); Hartfield v.
Barnhart, 384 F.3d 986, 988 (8th Cir. 2004) (“[R]eview of the Commissioner’s
final decision is deferential.”).
It is not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or review the
factual record de novo. See Cox, 495 F.3d at 617; Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d
798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); McClees v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 301, 302 (8th Cir. 1993);
Murphy v. Sullivan, 953 F.2d 383, 384 (8th Cir. 1992). Instead, the district court
must simply determine whether the quantity and quality of evidence is enough so
that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to support the ALJ’s conclusion. See
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing McKinney v. Apfel, 228
F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ,
who is the fact-finder. See Benskin v. Bowen, 830 F.2d 878, 882 (8th Cir. 1987).
See also Onstead v. Sullivan, 962 F.2d 803, 804 (8th Cir. 1992) (holding that an
ALJ’s decision is conclusive upon a reviewing court if it is supported by
“substantial evidence”). Thus, an administrative decision which is supported by
substantial evidence is not subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence
may also support an opposite conclusion or because the reviewing court would
have decided differently.
See Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022.
Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 589; Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 853, 857 (8th Cir. 2000)
(quoting Terrell v. Apfel, 147 F.3d 659, 661 (8th Cir. 1998)); Hutsell v. Massanari,
259 F.3d 707, 711 (8th Cir. 2001).
To determine whether the Commissioner’s final decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the court is required to review the administrative record as a
whole and to consider:
(1) Findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the claimant;
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant’s treating physicians;
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the claimant’s
physical activity and impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant’s physical impairment;
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon proper hypothetical
questions which fairly set forth the claimant’s physical impairment; and
(7) The testimony of consulting physicians.
Brand v. Sec’y of Dep’t of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir.
1980); Cruse v. Bowen, 867 F.2d 1183, 1184-85 (8th Cir. 1989).
Additionally, an ALJ’s decision must comply “with the relevant legal
requirements.” Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008).
The Social Security Act defines disability 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 has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
416(i)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). “While the claimant has the burden of
proving that the disability results from a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment, direct medical evidence of the cause and effect relationship between
the impairment and the degree of claimant’s subjective complaints need not be
produced.” Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). When
evaluating evidence of pain, the ALJ must consider:
(1) the claimant’s daily activities;
(2) the subjective evidence of the duration, frequency, and intensity of the
(3) any precipitating or aggravating factors;
(4) the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication; and
(5) the claimant’s functional restrictions.
Baker v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d. 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992);
Polaski, 739 F.2d at 1322.
The absence of objective medical evidence is just one factor to be
considered in evaluating the plaintiff’s credibility. See id. The ALJ must also
consider the plaintiff’s prior work record, observations by third parties and treating
and examining doctors, as well as the plaintiff’s appearance and demeanor at the
hearing. See Polaski, 739 F.2d at 1322; Cruse, 867 F.2d at 1186.
The ALJ must make express credibility determinations and set forth the
inconsistencies in the record which cause him or her to reject the plaintiff’s
complaints. See Guilliams, 393 F.3d at 801; Masterson, 363 F.3d at 738; Lewis v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 647 (8th Cir. 2003); Hall v. Chater, 62 F.3d 220, 223 (8th
Cir. 1995). It is not enough that the record contains inconsistencies; the ALJ must
specifically demonstrate that he or she considered all of the evidence. Robinson v.
Sullivan, 956 F.2d 836, 841 (8th Cir. 1992); Butler v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 850 F.2d 425, 429 (8th Cir. 1988). The ALJ, however, “need not explicitly
discuss each Polaski factor.” Strongson v. Barnhart, 361 F.3d 1066, 1072 (8th Cir.
2004). See also Steed, 524 F.3d at 876 (citing Lowe v. Apfel, 226 F.3d 969, 972
(8th Cir. 2000)). The ALJ need only acknowledge and consider those factors. See
id. Although credibility determinations are primarily for the ALJ and not the court,
the ALJ’s credibility assessment must be based on substantial evidence.
Rautio v. Bowen, 862 F.2d 176, 179 (8th Cir. 1988); Millbrook v. Heckler, 780
F.2d 1371, 1374 (8th Cir. 1985).
RFC is defined as what the claimant can do despite his or her limitations, 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1), and includes an assessment of physical abilities and
mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(b)-(e). The Commissioner must show
that a claimant who cannot perform his or her past relevant work can perform other
work which exists in the national economy. See Karlix v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 742,
746 (8th Cir. 2006); Nevland, 204 F.3d at 857 (citing McCoy v. Schweiker, 683
F.2d 1138, 1146-47 (8th Cir. 1982) (en banc)). The Commissioner must first prove
that the claimant retains the RFC to perform other kinds of work. See Goff, 421
F.3d at 790; Nevland, 204 F.3d at 857. The Commissioner has to prove this by
substantial evidence. Warner v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 428, 431 (8th Cir. 1983).
Second, once the plaintiff’s capabilities are established, the Commissioner has the
burden of demonstrating that there are jobs available in the national economy that
can realistically be performed by someone with the plaintiff’s qualifications and
capabilities. See Goff, 421 F.3d at 790; Nevland, 204 F.3d at 857.
To satisfy the Commissioner’s burden, the testimony of a vocational expert
(VE) may be used. An ALJ posing a hypothetical to a VE is not required to
include all of a plaintiff’s limitations, but only those which the ALJ finds credible.
See Goff, 421 F.3d at 794 (“[T]he ALJ properly included only those limitations
supported by the record as a whole in the hypothetical.”); Rautio, 862 F.2d at 180.
Use of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines is appropriate if the ALJ discredits the
plaintiff’s subjective complaints of pain for legally sufficient reasons. See Baker
v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 882, 894-95 (8th Cir. 2006); Carlock v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d
1341, 1343 (8th Cir. 1990); Hutsell v. Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 750 (8th Cir. 1989).
The issue before the court is whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner’s final determination that Plaintiff was not disabled. See Onstead,
962 F.2d at 804. Thus, even if there is substantial evidence that would support a
decision opposite to that of the Commissioner, the court must affirm her decision
as long as there is substantial evidence in favor of the Commissioner’s position.
See Cox, 495 F.3d at 617; Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022.
Plaintiff testified, at the administrative hearing, that she was unable to work
due to depression, anxiety, back pain, and left leg weakness. Plaintiff further
testified that she experienced depression and anxiety on a daily basis; that her
anxiety became worse when she was in a crowd of people; that she was unable to
stand for more than about ten to fifteen minutes, could walk for about five to ten
minutes, and could not lift more than five pounds; that she spent most of her time
in a recliner with a pillow; and that she experienced numbness in her right arm
which prevented her from using a keyboard or writing with a pen. (Tr. 37-40).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2015; that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
February 25, 2012, her amended alleged onset date; that she had the severe
impairment of affective disorder; and that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the RFC for the full range of work at all
exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: Plaintiff was
limited to unskilled work in which she could perform routine, repetitive tasks in a
low-stress environment requiring only occasional decision-making; Plaintiff was
limited to occasional changes in the work setting and occasional exercise of
judgment; and Plaintiff was limited to occasional contact with supervisors,
coworkers, and the general public. Based on the testimony of a VE and the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), ALJ also found that Plaintiff was
capable of performing her past relevant work as a packager. As such, the ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ’s decision is not based on substantial
evidence because, when formulating her RFC, the ALJ improperly relied on the
opinion of Sherry Bassi, M.D., a non-examining doctor who completed a Mental
RFC Assessment and a Psychiatric Review Technique form, and because the ALJ
failed to properly consider Plaintiff’s testimony regarding the severity of her
limitations due to her psychological conditions.2 For the following reasons, the
court finds Plaintiff’s arguments without merit and that the ALJ’s decision is based
on substantial evidence and is consistent with the Regulations and case law.
The court will first consider the ALJ=s credibility determination, as the ALJ=s
evaluation of Plaintiff=s credibility was essential to the ALJ=s determination of
other issues. See Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 969 (8th Cir. 2010) (A[The
plaintiff] fails to recognize that the ALJ's determination regarding her RFC was
influenced by his determination that her allegations were not credible.@) (citing
Tellez v. Barnhart, 403 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 2005)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545,
416.945 (2010). As set forth more fully above, the ALJ=s credibility findings
should be affirmed if they are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole; a court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005); Hutsell, 892 F.2d at 750; Benskin,
830 F.2d at 882.
To the extent that the ALJ did not specifically cite Polaski, other case law,
and/or Regulations relevant to a consideration of Plaintiff=s credibility, this is not
Before this court, Plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ’s findings regarding her
necessarily a basis to set aside an ALJ=s decision where the decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Randolph v. Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 842 (8th Cir. 2004);
Wheeler v. Apfel, 224 F.3d 891, 895 n.3 (8th Cir. 2000); Reynolds v. Chater, 82
F.3d 254, 258 (8th Cir. 1996); Montgomery v. Chater, 69 F.3d 273, 275 (8th Cir.
1995). Additionally, an ALJ need not methodically discuss each Polaski factor if
the factors are acknowledged and examined prior to making a credibility
determination; where adequately explained and supported, credibility findings are
for the ALJ to make. See Lowe v. Apfel, 226 F.3d 969, 972 (8th Cir. 2000). See
also Tucker v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 781, 783 (8th Cir. 2004) (AThe ALJ is not
required to discuss each Polaski factor as long as the analytical framework is
recognized and considered.@); Strongson, 361 F.3d at 1072; Brown v. Chater, 87
F.3d 963, 966 (8th Cir. 1996).
In any case, A[t]he credibility of a claimant=s subjective testimony is
primarily for the ALJ to decide, not the courts.@ Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d
1211, 1218 (8th Cir. 2001).
AIf an ALJ explicitly discredits the claimant=s
testimony and gives good reason for doing so, [a court] will normally defer to the
ALJ=s credibility determination.@ Gregg v. Barnhart, 354 F.3d 710, 714 (8th Cir.
2003). See also Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 932 (8th Cir. 2010); Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 907 (8th Cir. 2006). For the following reasons, the court
finds that the reasons offered by the ALJ in support of his credibility determination
are based on substantial evidence.
First, the ALJ considered Plaintiff’s daily activities. (Tr. 20-21). The record
reflects that, commencing September 2011, Plaintiff received in-home help with
her personal care, housekeeping, and transportation from Easy Care Consumer
Directed Services. (Tr. 338-437). In a Function Report – Adult, Plaintiff stated
that she prepared simple food; that some days she tried “to make up [her] bed” and
wash dishes; that she shopped in stores once or twice a month for about thirty to
forty minutes; that she could pay bills, count change, and use a checkbook; that she
spent time with others, “sometimes on the phone”; and that she attended church
once a week. Plaintiff also reported that her allegedly disabling conditions did not
affect her ability to squat, stand, reach, kneel, talk, hear, see, understand, or follow
instructions; that she could walk one block; that she could follow written
instructions if they were short; and that she got along “w/authority.” (Tr. 204208).
Also, Gerald Brewah, M.S.W., and Javez Qasim, M.D., reported that
Plaintiff said that she was “able to perform her personal hygiene independently”;
that she did her own shopping; and that she did “virtually nothing for leisure
except for going to church and watching TV.” (Tr. 502). In December 2012,
Plaintiff told Stella Mosely, L.S.W., that her daughter helped her with errands and
around the house when she was not feeling well. (Tr. 491).
While the undersigned appreciates that a claimant need not be bedridden
before she can be determined to be disabled, a claimant’s daily activities can
nonetheless be seen as inconsistent with her subjective complaints of a disabling
impairment and may be considered in judging the credibility of complaints. See
Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 854 (8th Cir. 2015) (“Wright himself admits to
engaging in daily activities that this court has previously found inconsistent with
disabling pain, such as driving, shopping, bathing, and cooking.”); McDade v.
Astrue, 720 F.3d 994, 998 (8th Cir. 2013) (ALJ properly discounted plaintiff’s
credibility where, among other factors, plaintiff “was not unduly restricted in his
daily activities, which included the ability to perform some cooking, tak[ing] care
of his dogs, us[ing] a computer, driv[ing] with a neck brace, and shop[ping] for
groceries with the use of an electric cart”); Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 555
(8th Cir. 2011) (finding plaintiff's depression was not severe where plaintiff
engaged in a daily activities that were inconsistent with his allegations). See also
Ponders v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1190 (8th Cir. 2014) (holding that substantial
evidence supported the ALJ’s denial of disability benefits in part because claimant
“performs light housework, washes dishes, cooks for her family, does laundry, can
handle money and pays bills, shops for groceries and clothing, watches television,
drives a vehicle, leaves her house alone, regularly attends church, and visits her
family”); Roberson v. Astrue, 481 F.3d, 1020, 1025 (8th Cir. 2007) (holding that
the ALJ’s denial of benefits was supported based in part because Plaintiff fixed
meals, did housework, shopped for grocers, and visited friends). Moreover, to the
extent Plaintiff urges the court to reweigh the evidence regarding her daily
activities and draw its own conclusion in this regard, it is not the function of the
court to do so. See Bates v. Chater, 54 F.3d 529, 531-32 (8th Cir. 1995) (“As we
have stated many times, we do not reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ, and
it is the statutory duty of the ALJ, in the first instance, to assess the credibility of
the claimant and other witnesses.”) (internal citations, punctuation, and quotations
omitted). In any case, Plaintiff’s daily activities were only one of many factors
considered by the ALJ when determining Plaintiff’s credibility.
Second, the ALJ considered that the evidence of record did not corroborate
the severity of the symptoms of Plaintiff’s mental impairment. (Tr. 14-15, 17-22).
The objective medical evidence, or lack thereof, is an important factor to consider
in determining credibility.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(2), 416.929(c)(2)
(objective medical evidence is a useful indicator in making reasonable conclusions
about the intensity and persistence of a claimant’s symptoms and the effect those
symptoms may have on a claimant’s ability to work).
The objective medical evidence establishes that, on January 24, 2012,
Plaintiff presented for care with Dr. Qasim.
Pursuant to a mental status
examination, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff made good eye contact; that her
affect was appropriate; that her mood was dysphoric; that her impulse control and
self-concept were adequate; that her thought process was intact; that her
concentration was fair; that her memory, judgment, insight, and sleep pattern were
good; and that she was oriented.
Dr. Qasim diagnosed Plaintiff with major
depressive disorder. (Tr. 257-58).
On March 13, 2012, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Qasim, and, pursuant to a
mental status examination, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff was cooperative; that
her psychomotor activity was calm; that her affect was constricted; that she had
suicidal thoughts; that her mood was depressed and dysphoric; that her impulse
control and self-concept were adequate; that her thought process was intact; that
she had auditory hallucinations; that her concentration was poor; that she was
oriented; that her memory, judgment and insight were good; and that she had a loss
of appetite and sleeplessness. Dr. Qasim diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive
disorder and a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) of 48.3 (Tr. 255-56).
Global assessment of functioning (GAF) is the clinician=s judgment of the
individual=s overall level of functioning, not including impairments due to physical
or environmental limitations. See Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders, DSM-IV, 30-32 (4th ed. 1994). Expressed in terms of degree of
severity of symptoms or functional impairment, GAF scores of 31 to 40 represent
Also, on this date, Plaintiff met with Stella Mosley, C.S.W. Ms. Mosley reported
that Plaintiff was neatly dressed but appeared troubled. (Tr. 538). On March 29,
2012, Plaintiff reported that she had a depressed mood, diminished interest or
pleasure, fatigue, feelings of guilt, poor concentration, restlessness or sluggishness,
and sleep disturbance.
Plaintiff’s negatives included compulsive thoughts or
behaviors, hallucinations, manic episodes, panic attacks or thoughts of death or
suicide. (Tr. 305).
On April 4, 2012, presented to Ericson Smith, Ph.D., who reported that
Plaintiff was well groomed and cooperative; that her judgment and insight were
good; that her speech was coherent; that her thought content was logical; that
Plaintiff did not have hallucinations and was not suicidal; that she was oriented;
and that her memory was normal. Dr. Smith further reported that Plaintiff said she
Asome impairment in reality testing or communication or major impairment in
several areas, such as work or school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or
mood,@ 41 to 50 represents Aserious,@ scores of 51 to 60 represent Amoderate,@
scores of 61 to 70 represent Amild,@ and scores of 90 or higher represent absent or
minimal symptoms of impairment. Id. at 32. See also Brown v. Astrue, 611 F.3d
941, 955 (8th Cir. 2010) (A[A] GAF score of 65 [or 70] . . . reflects >some mild
symptoms (e.g. depressed mood or mild insomnia) OR some difficulty in social,
occupational, or school functioning . . . but generally functioning pretty well, has
some meaningful interpersonal relationships.=@) (quoting Kohler v. Astrue, 546
F.3d 260, 263 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Am. Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 34 (4th ed. 2000) (alterations in original).
See also Goff, 421 F.3d at 791, 793 (affirming where court held GAF of 58 was
inconsistent with doctor’s opinion that claimant suffered from extreme limitations;
GAF scores of 58-60 supported ALJ’s limitation to simple, routine, repetitive
had been depressed and stayed in bed all the time, and that this behavior had “been
in place since she was turned down for her disability.” Dr. Smith told Plaintiff that
the documents “sent out by [the Hopewell Center] were not supportive of her
getting disability.” (Tr. 529). When Plaintiff returned to Dr. Qasim, on April 17,
2012, she stated that her mood was better.
Pursuant to a mental status
examination, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff’s mood was anxious and dysphoric;
that her impulse control and self-concept were adequate; that her concentration was
fair; that her affect was appropriate; that she was not suicidal; that she was
oriented; that her memory, judgment, and insight were good; that her appetite was
“up & down”; and that her GAF was 52. (Tr. 526-27). See n.3 (GAF of 51-60 is
in the moderate range).
On April 25, 2012, Dr. Bassi reviewed Plaintiff’s records and completed a
Mental RFC Assessment in which she reported that Plaintiff was moderately
limited in the ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, carry out
detailed instructions, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods,
complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from
psychologically-based symptoms, interact appropriately with the general public,
and accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. In
all other areas, Dr. Bassi found that Plaintiff was not significantly limited. Dr.
Bassi concluded that Plaintiff could follow simple directions and make basic work-
related decisions, and that she could adapt to routine change in a work
environment. (Tr. 308-10).
When Plaintiff saw Thelma Coleman, M.S.W., C.S.W., on May 9 and 15,
2012, she was oriented, and on May 9, 2012, Plaintiff was “free of negative
symptoms.” (Tr. 523-24). On May 15, 2012, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff’s
affect was constricted; that her mood was appropriate; that she was depressed; that
her concentration was poor; that she was cooperative, made good eye contact, and
had coherent speech; that her thought process was intact; that her memory,
judgment, and insight were good; that she was oriented; and that her GAF was 52.
(Tr. 521). On June 1, 2012, Ms. Coleman reported that Plaintiff was “free of
negative mental health symptoms.” (Tr. 520). On August 28, 2012, Plaintiff told
Dr. Qasim that she was “not doing good,” was “feeling very distraught,” was “tired
of life,” and had been “rejected by disability.”
Pursuant to a mental status
examination, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff’s speech was coherent; that her
impulse control and self-concept were adequate; that her thought process was
intact; that her memory was good; that she was oriented; that her judgment was
good; that her thought process was fair; and that her GAF was 49. (Tr. 514-15).
Plaintiff saw Michael McCann, M.D., on October 26, 2012, for physical
In his Assessment, Dr. McCann stated that Plaintiff’s “depression
increased with pain and increased weight.” (Tr. 328-29). On November 1, 2012,
Ms. Mosely reported that Plaintiff’s mood was stable. (Tr. 508). On November
20, 2012, Dr. Qasim reported that Plaintiff’s GAF was 50. (Tr. 506).
On December 30, 2012, Dr. Qasim conducted an “Adult CPRC Psychosocial
Assessment” of Plaintiff, and reported that, during the interview, her affect,
speech, and motor activities were appropriate, her thought content was coherent,
she was oriented, and she made good eye contact. Dr. Qasim also reported that
Plaintiff said her memory was bad; that Dr. Qasim assessed this by asking Plaintiff
to recall words; and that she recalled the words “quickly after about 10 minutes.”
Plaintiff told Dr. Qasim, in the course of the Assessment, that her depression had
improved a lot due to the medications she was taking. On this date, Dr. Qasim
diagnosed Plaintiff with a current GAF of 45. (Tr. 499-504).
On February 12, 2013, pursuant to a mental status examination, Dr. Qasim
reported that Plaintiff’s memory, judgment, and insight were good; that her mood
was anxious and depressed; that her eye contract was fair; that her speech was
coherent; that her concentration was poor; that her affect was constricted; and that
her GAF was 50. (Tr. 486-87).
On May 1, 2013, Syed Raza, M.D., a psychiatrist, completed a Medical
Source Statement – Mental in which he opined that Plaintiff was markedly limited
in 9 of the 20 areas of functioning, extremely limited in 1 area, and moderately
limited in 9 areas of functioning.4 In particular, Dr. Raza opined that Plaintiff was
markedly limited in the ability to understand and remember detailed instructions,
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, sustain ordinary routine
without special supervision, work in coordination with others, make simple workrelated decisions, complete a normal workday and week without interruption from
psychologically-based symptoms, get along with coworkers, respond appropriate
to change in the work setting, and travel to unfamiliar places. Dr. Raza further
opined that Plaintiff was extremely limited in the ability to set realistic goals and
make plans independently of others. (Tr. 594-95).
When Plaintiff presented with the flu and for back pain, on May 6, 2013,
Xingrong Lu, M.D., reported that Plaintiff was alert and oriented; that her speech
was clear and fluent; and that her comprehension was intact. (Tr. 615-16). On
May 7, 2013,5 Plaintiff told a counselor that she was “[g]oing through stuff,” not
sleeping, overwhelmed, and would “be better off dead.” Pursuant to a mental
status examination, the counselor reported that Plaintiff’s impulse control was
inadequate; that her self-concept was poor; that her thought process was intact; that
she had auditory and visual hallucinations; that she was oriented; that her memory
Dr. Raza did not assess Plaintiff’s ability to carry out detailed instructions; thus
he only checked 19 out of 20 boxes on the Medical Source Statement – Mental.
Plaintiff states that the date of this counseling session was May 1, 2013, but to
the court the handwritten note reflects it was May 7, 2013. (Tr. 587).
was good; and that her judgment and insight were fair. Plaintiff was diagnosed
with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a GAF of 45. (Tr. 587-88). On
May 15, 2013, Ms. Mosley reported that Plaintiff’s mood was stable and alert. (Tr.
On June 7, 2013, Plaintiff reported that she was depressed and that she
isolated herself. Pursuant to a mental status examination, a counselor reported that
Plaintiff’s memory and insight were good; that her motor activity was hypoactive;
that she was oriented; that her impulse control, concentration, self-concept, and eye
contact were poor; that her speech was coherent; and that she had PTSD and a
GAF of 45. (Tr. 629-30).
Third, it was reported that Plaintiff’s conditions were controlled with
medication. See Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 965 (8th Cir. 2010) (“If an
impairment can be controlled by treatment or medication, it cannot be considered
disabling.”) (internal citation omitted).
Notably, Plaintiff testified, at the
administrative hearing, that her medication calmed her down. (Tr. 37). Also, in a
Function Report – Adult, Plaintiff stated that she controlled stress with medication,
when she did not forget to take it. (Tr. 208). On March 17, 2012, it was reported
that Plaintiff’s depression was controlled with Welbutrin and Abilify. (Tr. 266).
On March 29, 2012, when she presented for depression, it was reported that
Plaintiff was “stable on meds.” (Tr. 305). On April 26, 2012, Plaintiff reported, in
regard to her depression, that she had “better days when she [got] up in the
morning” and took her medication. (Tr. 334). On June 15, 2012, Ms. Mosley
reported that Plaintiff’s mood was good and that she continued to take her daily
medications. (Tr. 507). Dr. Qasim reported, on November 28, 2012, that Plaintiff
said she previously had suicidal thoughts but that she was currently taking
medication which helped her “tremendously.”
Plaintiff also stated that her
depression had improved “a lot due to the medication she [was] taking.” (Tr. 499,
502). Further, Dr. Qasim reported, in January 2012, that Plaintiff suffered no side
effects from her medications (Tr. 258), and in May 2012, Ms. Coleman reported
that Plaintiff had no negative symptoms from her medications (Tr. 523-24). See
Depover v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 563, 566 (8th Cir. 2003) (AWe  think that it was
reasonable for the ALJ to consider the fact that no medical records during this time
period mention [the claimant=s] having side effects from any medication.@);
Richmond v. Shalala, 23 F.3d 1441, 1443-44 (8th Cir. 1994).
Fourth, Dr. Qasim reported, in November 2012, that Plaintiff stated her
mental health problems started, in 2005, when she was going through a divorce;
that her problems exacerbated in 2006 when she lost her mother and in 2010 when
her oldest son was killed; that her “depression emanated from [a] series of disasters
she had gone through during the past few years”; and that she was “coping now,
but she [had] a long way to go.” (Tr. 501-502). In May 2013, Plaintiff reported
that she was “going thr[ough] stuff,” was not sleeping, and was overwhelmed. (Tr.
587). See Dunahoo v. Apfel, 241 F.3d 1033, 1039-40 (8th Cir. 2001) (holding that
depression was situational and not disabling because it was due to denial of food
stamps and workers compensation and because there was no evidence that it
resulted in significant functional limitations); Shipley v. Astrue, 2010 WL
1687077, at *12 (E.D. Mo. April 26, 2010) (situational depression is not
As set forth above, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC for the full
range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional
limitations: Plaintiff was limited to unskilled work in which she can perform
routine, repetitive tasks in a low-stress environment requiring only occasional
decision-making; Plaintiff was limited to occasional changes in the work setting
and occasional exercise of judgment; and Plaintiff was limited to occasional
contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public.
The Regulations define RFC as Awhat [the claimant] can do@ despite his or
her Aphysical or mental limitations.@ 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). AWhen determining
whether a claimant can engage in substantial employment, an ALJ must consider
the combination of the claimant=s mental and physical impairments.@ Lauer v.
Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 703 (8th Cir. 2001). AThe ALJ must assess a claimant=s RFC
based on all relevant, credible evidence in the record, >including the medical
records, observations of treating physicians and others, and an individual=s own
description of his limitations.=@ Tucker v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 781, 783 (8th Cir.
2004) (quoting McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). See also
Myers v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 521, 526 (8th Cir. 2013).
To determine a claimant=s RFC, the ALJ must move, analytically, from
ascertaining the true extent of the claimant=s impairments to determining the kind
of work the claimant can still do despite his or her impairments. Anderson v.
Shalala, 51 F.3d. 777, 779 (8th Cir. 1995). Although assessing a claimant=s RFC is
primarily the responsibility of the ALJ, a A>claimant's residual functional capacity
is a medical question.=@ Lauer, 245 F.3d at 704 (quoting Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d
448, 451 (8th Cir. 2000)). The Eighth Circuit clarified, in Lauer, 245 F.3d at 704,
that A>[s]ome medical evidence,= Dykes v. Apfel, 223 F.3d 865, 867 (8th Cir. 2000)
(per curiam), must support the determination of the claimant's RFC, and the ALJ
should obtain medical evidence that addresses the claimant=s >ability to function in
the workplace,= Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 853, 858 (8th Cir. 2000).@ Thus, an
ALJ is Arequired to consider at least some supporting evidence from a
professional.@ Id. See also Vossen v. Astrue, 612 F.3d 1011, 1016 (8th Cir. 2010)
(AThe ALJ bears the primary responsibility for determining a claimant's RFC and
because RFC is a medical question, some medical evidence must support the
determination of the claimant's RFC.@); Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 591.
Upon determining Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ first identified and considered
Plaintiff’s functional limitations on a function-by-function basis. In particular, the
ALJ found that the record supported the presence of moderate depressive
symptoms, but that it did not contain evidence of functional limitations that would
preclude “unskilled work, performing routine, repetitive tasks in a low-stress
environment requiring occasional decision-making, occasional changes in the work
setting, and occasional exercise of judgment.” (Tr. 19).
Upon reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted that the records of mental
health professionals reflected “moderate waxing and waning of [Plaintiff’s]
depressive symptoms.” (Tr. 19). In this regard, as considered by the ALJ, on
March 13, 2012, Plaintiff reported having auditory hallucinations, and two weeks
later she reported having fearful thoughts, fatigue, guilt, poor concentration,
appetite loss, and sleep disturbance, but she specifically denied hallucinations. (Tr.
19, 255-56, 305).
Then on May 9, 2012, Plaintiff was “free of negative
symptoms,” (Tr. 524), and, on August 28, 2012, Plaintiff was “not doing good.”
(Tr. 514). On May 7, 2013, Plaintiff said she would be better off dead (Tr. 587),
and one week later, on May 15, 2013, Plaintiff’s mood was stable (Tr. 641).
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s depression resulted in functional
limitations and incorporated these limitations in the RFC which the ALJ assigned
to Plaintiff. (Tr. 20). Further, upon formulating Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ included
only those limitations which he found credible. See Tindell v. Barnhart, 444 F.3d
1002, 1007 (8th Cir. 2006) (AThe ALJ included all of Tindell=s credible limitations
in his RFC assessment, and the ALJ=s conclusions are supported by substantial
evidence in the record.@).
Also, upon formulating Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ considered Dr. Bassi’s
evaluation of the record. (Tr. 21). Although Plaintiff does not challenge Dr.
Bassi’s findings, as set forth above, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by giving
any weight to Dr. Bassi’s opinion because she was a non-examining source. (Doc.
13 at 10-11). The Regulations and case law, however, provide that an ALJ can
consider opinions from medical experts on the nature and severity of a claimant’s
impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2)(iii), 416.927(e)(2)(iii); Turpin v.
Colvin, 750 F.3d 989, 994 (8th Cir. 2014) (although testimony from a medical
expert is not substantial evidence on its own, it may be afforded weight and
considered with other evidence including a claimant’s testimony and other medical
records); Hacker v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 2006) (“The regulations
specifically provide that the opinions of non-treating physicians may be
Although generally more weight should be given to the opinion of a treating
physician than a non-examining physician, when the opinion of the non-examining
physician is consistent with the medical and non-medical evidence in the record, it
is proper to afford the opinion of the non-examining physician considerable
weight. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(2), 416.927(c)(1)-(2); SSR 96-2p (“In
appropriate circumstances, opinions from State agency medical and psychological
consultants and other program physicians and psychologists may be entitled to
greater weight than the opinions of treating or examining sources.”). Significantly,
Dr. Bassi’s opinion was consistent with Plaintiff’s mental status examinations,
which indicated that Plaintiff was often alert, oriented, calm, and cooperative; that
she often made good eye contact; and that she often had coherent speech, adequate
impulse control, adequate self-concept, intact thought process, and good judgment,
memory, and insight.
In any case, the ALJ only gave Dr. Bassi’s opinion “some weight,” as the
ALJ formulated Plaintiff’s RFC after evaluating the record as a whole. Cf. Hogan
v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 961 (8th Cir. 2001) (AAlthough a treating physician=s
opinion is entitled to great weight, it does not automatically control or obviate the
need to evaluate the record as a whole.@).
To the extent Plaintiff argues that Dr. Bassi’s opinion cannot constitute
substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s RFC determination because it was
completed before some of Plaintiff’s treatment notes were made part of the record
(Doc. 13 at 10-11), Dr. Bassi assessed Plaintiff’s mental impairments at the time
she completed the evaluation. Moreover, as stated above, the ALJ only gave some
weight to Dr. Bassi’s opinion in the course of his considering the record in its
Also, upon formulating Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ gave little weight to the
above described opinion of Dr. Raza as expressed in the May 2013 Medical Source
Statement – Mental, in which Dr. Raza opined that Plaintiff had was extremely
limited in the ability to set realistic goals or make plans independently of others,
and that she had marked limitations in nine areas of functioning. (Tr. 594-85).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in giving Dr. Raza’s opinion little weight, and
that the ALJ should have given Dr. Raza’s opinion more weight because he was a
treating physician. (Doc. 13 at 11-13).
Indeed, the opinions of treating physicians are ordinarily given considerable
weight, but the record does not reflect that Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Raza prior
to his completing the Medical Source Statement – Mental.
In fact, the only
references in the record to Dr. Raza’s involvement with Plaintiff’s treatment are
March 15 and June 13, 2013 Quarterly Treatment Plans which list Dr. Raza as
participating in the review. (Tr. 540, 631). Notably, these Quarterly Treatment
Plans are signed by other persons, and Dr. Raza’s signature does not appear on
The Commissioner suggests that the failure of Dr. Raza to sign the
Quarterly Treatment Plans indicates that he may not have actually been involved
with the review. (Doc. 16 at 11). Even assuming that Dr. Raza participated in the
Quarterly Treatment Plans, generally, a physician will be considered a treating
source if the physician has seen the claimant “a number of times and long enough
to have obtained a longitudinal picture of the claimant’s impairment.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(2)(i), 416.927(c)(2)(i); Randolph v. Barnhart, 386 F.3d 835, 840
(8th Cir. 2004) (“[The physician’s] March letter . . . is not entitled to controlling
weight as a medical opinion of a treating source. When she filled out the checklist,
[the physician] had only met with [the claimant] on three prior occasions.”)
(citation omitted). As such, the court finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s determination to give little weight to Dr. Raza’s opinion and that the ALJ’s
decision, in this regard, is consistent with the Regulations and case law.
Additionally, the court notes that Dr. Raza’s opinion indicating that Plaintiff
had marked limitations in 9 out of 20 areas of functioning and extreme limitations
in 1 of the 20 areas is inconsistent with Plaintiff’s medical records as discussed
above. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 853 (8th Cir. 2015) (where a treating
doctor’s opinion “is not consistent with the objective medical evidence that relates
to determining disabling pain levels,” an ALJ need not give the treating doctor’s
opinion controlling weight). Also, Dr. Raza offered his opinion by merely making
checkmarks on a form. Checkmarks on a form are conclusory opinions which can
be discounted if contradicted by other objective medical evidence. Johnson v.
Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2011); Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964
(8th Cir. 2010) (AThe checklist format, generality, and incompleteness of the
assessments limit [the assessments] evidentiary value. . . . Indeed, [a] treating
physician's opinion deserves no greater respect than any other physician's opinion
when [it] consists of nothing more than vague, conclusory statements.@) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
In regard to the ALJ’s RFC determination, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
should have considered her low GAF scores which were “routinely 45 to 50.”
(Doc. 13 at 13). As a preliminary matter, a GAF score Ais not essential to the
RFC=s accuracy@ and has no direct correlation to the severity requirements of the
Listings for mental disorders. See Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 974-75 (8th Cir.
2010) (“[T]he Commissioner has declined to endorse the [GAF] score for ‘use in
the Social Security and [SSI] disability programs,’ and has indicated that [GAF]
scores have no ‘direct correlation to the severity requirements of the mental
disorders listings.’”) (quoting 65 Fed. Reg. 50746, 50764–65 (Aug. 21, 2000)
(other internal quotations and citations omitted); Howard v. Comm=r of Social
Security, 276 F.3d 235, 241 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, Plaintiff’s low GAF scores did
not establish she had severe impairments or that she was precluded from engaging
in substantial gainful activity. See Earnheart v. Astrue, 484 F. App’x 73, 75 (8th
Cir. 2012) (unpublished) (claimant’s low GAF scores did not prevent ALJ from
determining that she had the RFC to perform certain jobs).
Further, while GAF scores of 41 to 50 represent serious symptoms, scores of
51 to 60 represent moderate symptoms. See n.3. Thus, Plaintiff’s scores of 50
were in the high end of the serious range and close to being in the moderate range.
Further, although she had scores of 45 to 50, Plaintiff also had scores of 52. (Tr.
To the extent Plaintiff suggests that the ALJ did not take her GAF scores
into consideration, the ALJ’s failure to discuss them does not mean he did not
consider them. See Montgomery v. Chater, 69 F.3d 273,275 (8th Cir. 1995). See
also Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1065 (8th Cir. 2012) (while ALJ “was
required to develop the record fully, she was not required to provide an in-depth
analysis on each piece of evidence”); Craig v. Apfel, 212 F.3d 433, 436 (8th Cir.
2000) (“Although required to develop the record fully and fairly, an ALJ is not
required to discuss all the evidence submitted, and an ALJ's failure to cite specific
evidence does not indicate that it was not considered.”). Moreover, the ALJ did
address treatment notes which included Plaintiff’s RFC scores. As suggested by
the Commissioner, it is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the ALJ also
considered Plaintiff’s low GAF scores.
(Doc. 16 at 15).
In any case, any
deficiency in regard to the ALJ’s consideration of Plaintiff’s GAF scores does not
affect the outcome of this matter. See Welch v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 926, 929 (8th
Cir. 2014) (holding that the ALJ’s failure to explicitly address applicable SSR 969p was an arguable deficiency in opinion writing that had no practical effect on
decision because ALJ found Plaintiff’s limitations had no more than a slight
impact on claimant’s ability to perform full range of sedentary work; therefore, the
deficiency was not a sufficient reason to set aside the ALJ’s decision); Senne v.
Apfel, 198 F.3d 1065, 1067 (8th Cir. 1999) (AWe have consistently held that a
deficiency in opinion-writing is not a sufficient reason for setting aside an
administrative finding where the deficiency had no practical effect on the outcome
of the case.@).
In conclusion, upon determining Plaintiff’s RFC, the court finds that the ALJ
properly considered the evidence of record, including the opinions of examining
and non-examining doctors and Plaintiff’s treatment notes. Upon doing so the ALJ
fulfilled his role to evaluate the record as a whole. Leckenby v. Astrue, 487 F.3d
626, 632 (8th Cir. 2007) (holding that a treating physician=s opinion does not
automatically control or obviate the need to evaluate the record as whole). As
such, the court finds that the ALJ’s RFC determination is based on substantial
evidence and is consistent with the Regulations and case law, and that Plaintiff’s
arguments to the contrary are without merit.
To the extent Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not explain how she could
perform unskilled work (Doc. 13 at 12), consistent with the Regulations and case
law, after determining Plaintiff’s RFC and after the VE testified regarding the
nature of Plaintiff’s past employment, the ALJ posed a hypothetical to a VE, which
described a person of Plaintiff’s age and with her RFC, work experience, and
education. (Tr. 48). See Renstrom v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1067 (8th Cir. 2012);
Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 927 (8th Cir. 2011) (AThe ALJ's hypothetical
question to the vocational expert needs to include only those impairments that the
ALJ finds are substantially supported by the record as a whole.@) (quoting Lacroix
v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 889 (8th Cir. 2006)); Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959,
969 (8th Cir. 2010) (“[T]he ALJ was not obligated to include limitations from
opinions he properly disregarded.”).
The VE responded that Plaintiff could perform the duties of a packager, an
unskilled position performed at the medium exertional level. (Tr. 47). Based on
the VE’s testimony, and his independent consideration of the DOT, the ALJ found
that, because Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a hand packager,
Plaintiff was not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(3) (if claimant has the RFC to
perform her past relevant work, the Commissioner will find her not disabled). As
such, the court finds that the ALJ’s determination that Plaintiff is not disabled is
based on substantial evidence and that Plaintiff’s arguments to the contrary are
For the reasons set forth above, the court finds that substantial evidence on
the record as a whole supports the Commissioner’s decision that Plaintiff is not
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the relief sought by Plaintiff in her
Complaint, Brief in Support of Complaint, and Reply (Docs. 1, 13, 17) is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that a separate judgment be entered
incorporating this Memorandum and Order.
Dated this 5th day of January, 2016.
/s/ Noelle C. Collins
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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