Nolan v. Saul
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that that the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed, and Pamela Nolan's complaint is dismissed with prejudice. A separate Judgment is entered herewith. Signed by District Judge Rodney W. Sippel on 06/03/2021. (ANP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
Commissioner of Social Security,
No. 4:20 CV 640 RWS
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Pamela Nolan brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401. Section 1631(c)(3) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), provides for
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner. Because the
Commissioner’s final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record
as a whole, I will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff was born in 1967 and alleges she became disabled beginning June
28, 2016, because of arthritis, pinched nerves, depression and insomnia. (Tr. 214.)
Plaintiff’s application was initially denied on November 18, 2016. (Tr. 84.)
After a hearing before an ALJ on March 21, 2019, the ALJ issued a decision
denying benefits on May 30, 2019. (Tr. 8-32.) On April 21, 2020, the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1.) The ALJ’s decision is now
the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
In this action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in her
duty to fully and fairly develop the record, leading to an unsupportable assessment
of her residual functional capacity. Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ failed at
Step 5 of the evaluation. She asks that I reverse the Commissioner’s final decision
and remand the matter for further evaluation. For the reasons that follow, I will
affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ
With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt
plaintiff’s recitation of facts (ECF #19) as they are admitted by the Commissioner
(ECF #29). Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the
To be eligible for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act,
plaintiff must prove that she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211,
1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552,
555 (8th Cir. 1992). 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 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). An individual will be declared disabled “only
if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that
[she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her]
age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a
five-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The Commissioner begins by deciding whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is working,
disability benefits are denied. Next, the Commissioner decides whether the
claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments, meaning that
which significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant’s
impairment(s) is not severe, then he is not disabled. The Commissioner then
determines whether claimant’s impairment(s) meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If claimant’s
impairment(s) is equivalent to one of the listed impairments, she is conclusively
disabled. At the fourth step, the Commissioner establishes whether the claimant
can perform his past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. Finally, the
Commissioner evaluates various factors to determine whether the claimant is
capable of performing any other work in the economy. If not, the claimant is
declared disabled and becomes entitled to disability benefits.
I must affirm the Commissioner’s decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002).
Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable
person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240
F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). Determining whether there is substantial
evidence requires scrutinizing analysis. Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th
I must consider evidence that supports the Commissioner’s decision as well
as any evidence that fairly detracts from the decision. McNamara v. Astrue, 590
F.3d 607, 610 (8th Cir. 2010). If, after reviewing the entire record, it is possible to
draw two inconsistent positions and the Commissioner has adopted one of those
positions, I must affirm the Commissioner’s decision. Anderson v. Astrue, 696
F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012). I may not reverse the Commissioner’s decision
merely because substantial evidence could also support a contrary outcome.
McNamara, 590 F.3d at 610.
When evaluating evidence of pain or other subjective complaints, the ALJ is
never free to ignore the subjective testimony of the claimant, even if it is
uncorroborated by objective medical evidence. Basinger v. Heckler, 725 F.2d
1166, 1169 (8th Cir. 1984). The ALJ may, however, disbelieve a claimant’s
subjective complaints when they are inconsistent with the record as a whole. See
e.g., Battles v. Sullivan, 902 F.2d 657, 660 (8th Cir. 1990). In considering the
subjective complaints, the ALJ is required to consider whether a claimant’s
subjective complaints are consistent with the medical evidence. See Polaski v.
Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984) (listing factors such as the claimant’s daily
activities, the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain, precipitating and
aggravating factors, dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medication, and
functional restrictions).1 When an ALJ gives good reasons for the findings, the
court will usually defer to the ALJ’s finding. Casey v. Astrue, 503 F.3d 687, 696
(8th Cir. 2007). However, the ALJ retains the responsibility of developing a full
This was once referred to as a credibility determination, but the agency has now eliminated use
of the term “credibility” to clarify that subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of
an individual’s character. However, the analysis remains largely the same, so the Court’s use of
the term credibility refers to the ALJ’s evaluation of whether a claimant’s “statements about the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of symptoms are consistent with the objective medical
evidence and other evidence of record.” See SSR 16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304, at *8 (Oct. 25,
2017); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(3) and 416.929(c)(3); Lawrence v. Saul, 2020 WL 4375088, at
*5, n.6 (8th Cir. Jul. 31, 2020) (noting that SSR 16-3p “largely changes terminology rather than
the substantive analysis to be applied” when evaluating a claimant’s subjective complaints).
and fair record in the non-adversarial administrative proceeding. Hildebrand v.
Barnhart, 302 F.3d 836, 838 (8th Cir. 2002).
In her written decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of June 28, 2016. (Tr.13.)
The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative
disc disease, osteoarthritis, clinical obesity, affective depressive disorder with
anxiety features, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Tr.13.) The ALJ determined
that plaintiff’s impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or
medically equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. 14.) The ALJ found plaintiff to have the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform light work with the following limitations:
[Claimant can] occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds, and
she can occasionally balance and crawl. She should avoid hazards
such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts, and she
should avoid extreme cold and vibrations. She can frequently handle
and finger with her bilateral upper extremities. The claimant can
perform simple, routine tasks with minimal changes in job duties and
(Tr. 17.) The ALJ relied upon vocational expert testimony to support a conclusion
that there were significant jobs in the economy of photocopy machine operator,
routing clerk and marking clerk that plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ
therefore found plaintiff not to be disabled. (Tr. 27.)
Plaintiff claims that this decision is not supported by substantial evidence
because there is no medical opinion in the record that addresses plaintiff’s physical
ability to function in the workplace and supports her RFC. For this reason,
plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in her duty to fully and fairly develop the record.
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred at Step 5 of the sequential evaluation,
which requires remand.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred when formulating her RFC because there
is no medical opinion upon which the ALJ could have based her RFC assessment.
RFC is defined as “what [the claimant] can still do” despite his “physical or mental
limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). The ALJ must determine a claimant’s RFC
based on all of the relevant evidence, including the medical records, observations
of treating physicians and others, and an individual’s own description of his
limitations. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000) (citing Anderson
v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 777, 779 (8th Cir. 1995)).
According to plaintiff, the ALJ should have ordered an orthopedic
consultative examination to determine the extent of plaintiff’s ability to handle and
finger. Plaintiff argues the medical evidence of record does not support the ALJ’s
determination that she can frequently handle and finger. Here, the ALJ properly
formulated plaintiff’s RFC only after evaluating her subjective symptoms and
discussing the relevant evidence, including her testimony, the medical evidence,
and her daily activities. After consideration of all this evidence, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff retained the capacity to perform light work, with
modifications tailored to her credible limitations. In so doing, she did not
First, the ALJ did obtain an internal medicine consultative examination of
plaintiff, which included an evaluation of her hands and fingers. On November 9,
2016, plaintiff was evaluated by Veronica Weston, M.D. (Tr. 481.) Dr. Weston
noted plaintiff’s complaints of arthritis, pinched nerves, depression, and insomnia.
(Tr. 481.) With respect to her hands, plaintiff reported arthritis and chronic pain in
the DIP and PIP joints of both hands at a pain level of 7/10. (Tr. 481.) Plaintiff
reported decreased grip strength and difficulty opening doors and dropping things.
(Tr. 481.) Dr. Weston diagnosed osteoarthritis in the hands. (Tr. 482.) Upon
examination, plaintiff was observed to have normal gait and station, could stand
and walk on toes and heels, and moved around the room without difficulty. (Tr.
483.) Dr. Weston observed only “mild deficits in hand dexterity.” (Tr. 483.) She
had no muscle atrophy and tenderness to palpation over the DIP and PIP joints of
the right hand and over the CMC joint and wrist. (Tr. 483.) Dr. Weston noted
some Heberden’s nodes of the third through the fifth digits with the third DIP with
ulnar deviation and mild swelling on the right hand, and some nodes at the DIP
joints of the second through fifth digits on her left hand, with ulnar deviation at the
third DIP joint. (Tr. 483.) No other joint deformities were observed. (Tr. 483.)
Dr. Weston observed that plaintiff could not made a complete fist in the left hand,
but saw only “some mild deficits to hand dexterity.” (Tr. 483.) Her pinch and grip
strength were 4/5. (Tr. 484.) Dr. Weston’s clinical impression was history of
osteoarthritis of the hands with associated Heberden’s nodes at the DIP joints and
some ulnar deviation of the third digits of the hands. (Tr. 484.) She assessed only
mild deficits to hand dexterity primarily in the left greater than right hand, noting
that plaintiff could not make a fist in her left hand. (Tr. 484.) Plaintiff does not
argue that Dr. Weston was not qualified to examine plaintiff or render an opinion
with respect to her osteoarthritis of her hands, nor does she point to any substantial
error resulting from obtaining an internal medicine examination as opposed to a
consultative examination by an orthopedist. Here, the ALJ considered plaintiff’s
request that she be referred for a post-hearing orthopedic consultative examination
for additional testing of her hands but denied it because the record already
contained Dr. Weston’s examination as well as treatment records and recent
objective imaging of plaintiff’s hands. (Tr. 11.) The ALJ did not substantially err
in denying this request, as substantial evidence of record supports her decision that
plaintiff can frequently handle and finger as determined in her RFC.
The ALJ thoroughly summarized all the medical evidence in the record,
including the medical records relating to plaintiff’s hands, in her formulation of
plaintiff’s RFC. After careful consideration of the entire record, the ALJ
incorporated into plaintiff’s RFC those impairments and restrictions she found
consistent with the evidence from the relevant period, and substantial evidence on
a whole supports her determination. (Tr. 17-22.)
Plaintiff’s treatment notes and objective medical evidence of record
demonstrated limitations consistent with the ALJ’s RFC determination. (Tr. 1722.) In addition to Dr. Weston’s examination, which revealed only mild deficits in
hand dexterity, the ALJ reviewed the medical records from plaintiff’s treating
physician, Leonard Lucas, D.O.2 On June 28, 2016, Dr. Lucas noted osteoarthritic
changes in both of plaintiff’s hands, including Heberden’s nodes and crooked DIP
joints on her third digits. (Tr. 302.) However, he noted that plaintiff’s MCP joints
appeared normal and that she had no obvious joint swelling, although she reported
pain in multiple joints, particularly her back. (Tr. 302.) Upon examination, Dr.
Lucas detected no neurological abnormalities and observed that she had full
strength in all extremities, with intact and symmetrical sensation and deep tendon
reflexes. (Tr. 302.) Dr. Lucas diagnosed plaintiff with primary osteoarthritis of
The ALJ mistakenly refers to Dr. Lucas as Dr. Leonard in her decision.
multiple joints, including both of her hands. (Tr. 302.) He administered
prednisone injections to the hands. (Tr. 302.)
On August 25, 2016, plaintiff saw Dr. Lucas again for a medication refill for
her back and neck pain. Dr. Lucas’s examination of plaintiff’s hands yielded the
same results. (Tr. 378.) Dr. Lucas’s examination of plaintiff’s hands on April 18,
2017 again yielded the same results after plaintiff reported experiencing back pain
after carrying a 40 pound bag of kitty litter. (561-63.) At her visit in June of 2017,
plaintiff complained of shooting pain in her neck and arm which required pain
medication; however, Dr. Lucas’s observations of plaintiff’s hands again remained
consistent with prior visits. (Tr. 556.) Then on September 27, 2017, plaintiff
complained that she “has hot swollen joints in hands” and “can not use hand or
make a grip.” (Tr. 548.) In addition to including the same results listed on all
previous visits, Dr. Lucas’ examination notes also state that “hand are hot tender
and swollen all joints and can not make a fist.” (Tr. 549.) The ALJ discussed this
treatment note but discounted it as a true objective finding given that it uses the
same language of plaintiff’s subjective complaint and the same notation appears
thereafter in her records, whether or not plaintiff was complaining of pain in her
hands. (Tr. 518, 525, 534). The ALJ did not substantially err in concluding that
this was not a true objective finding observed by Dr. Lucas given the identical,
repetitive nature of Dr. Lucas’ treatment notes, particularly given that Dr. Lucas
referred plaintiff to rheumatologist Adam Parker, M.D., on January 10, 2018 to
evaluate her joint pain and other polyarthritis symptoms.
Plaintiff reported “issues with her hands” and pain in her back shooting
down to her feet to Dr. Parker. (Tr. 538.) Upon examination, Dr. Parker noted
osteoarthritic changes of the hands with Heberden and Bouchard’s nodes and
diffuse tenderness to palpation. (Tr. 541.) X-rays of plaintiff’s bilateral hands
taken the same day showed hypertrophic changes with loss of joint space and mild
sclerosis about the distal interphalangeal joints of all fingers, in varying degrees,
with mild sparing of the thumbs and right index finger, similar but advanced
changes in the proximal interphalangeal joint of the proximal interphalangeal joint
of the right fifth finger, and mild narrowing of other proximal interphalangeal
joints. (Tr. 594.) Dr. Parker noted that plaintiff’s laboratory tests showed
elevation of the mild inflammatory markers, and he suggested transitioning
plaintiff from NSAIDs to a low-dose prednisone to better control her symptoms.
After cancelling eight previous appointments, plaintiff saw Dr. Parker again
on October 31, 2018. (Tr. 506.) Plaintiff reported increased pain in her neck and
hands, with diffuse puffiness and mild warmth of the hands, more on the left than
right. (Tr. 506.) Dr. Parker again noted osteoarthritic changes of the hands with
Heberden and Bouchard’s nodes and diffuse tenderness to palpation. (Tr. 507.)
Plaintiff was observed to have normal gait and was able to move around the room
without difficulty. (Tr. 507.) Dr. Parker noted that plaintiff’s x-rays of her hands
showed osteoarthritic changes, possibly erosive, involving the interphalangeal
joints, bilaterally. (Tr. 507-08). He assessed polyarthralgia, most consistent with
erosive osteoarthritis. (Tr. 508.) Plaintiff declined Dr. Parker’s suggestion to take
a steroid. (Tr. 508.)
After consideration of all the medical evidence of record, the ALJ concluded
that the medical evidence supported a conclusion that plaintiff was reasonably
limited to handling and fingering with her bilateral hands on only a frequent basis.
(Tr. 22.) In particular the ALJ found Dr. Weston’s findings, that plaintiff had only
“mild” deficits to hand dexterity overall and a 4 out of 5 pinch and grip strength
bilaterally, supported a conclusion that plaintiff can handle and finger bilaterally
on a frequent basis, as opposed to the greater limitations urged by plaintiff. (Tr.
22.) Because sufficient evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s RFC
determination, she was not required to order additional consultative examinations
of the plaintiff. See Buford v. Colvin, 824 F.3d 793, 797 (8th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he
ALJ is required to order further medical examinations only if the existing medical
record does not provide sufficient evidence to determine whether the claimant is
disabled.”) (quoting Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 926-27 (8th Cir. 2011)). This
is particularly true where plaintiff submitted no opinion from any medical provider
that she was incapable of light work with frequent handling and fingering.
Although plaintiff believes that the ALJ should have weighed the medical evidence
of record differently to support greater limitations on handling and fingering, it is
not my role to reweigh the medical evidence of plaintiff’s limitations considered
by the ALJ in her determination of plaintiff’s RFC. Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d
926, 934 (8th Cir. 2016). The ALJ’s determination that plaintiff was limited to
frequent handling and fingering is supported by substantial evidence of record,
including Dr. Weston’s findings of only mild deficits in hand dexterity, plaintiff’s
ability to lift a 40-pound bag of kitty litter, and her examinations which showed
that plaintiff retained full strength and intact sensation. (Tr. 19-20, 302, 306, 311,
377, 468, 507, 518, 525, 541, 549, 556, 562, 570, 575, 688.) Moreover, the ALJ
accounted for plaintiff’s credible limitations by restricting her to frequent handling
and fingering and lifting limitations. The ALJ’s determination that plaintiff could
perform a restricted range of light work is supported by substantial medical
evidence of record.
Here, in addition to consideration of the medical evidence, the ALJ properly
formulated plaintiff’s RFC only after evaluating her subjective symptoms and
discussing the relevant evidence, including her testimony and daily activities.
After consideration of all this evidence, the ALJ found that her allegations were
not fully consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.
(Tr. 19.) When considering a claimant’s self-reported symptoms and limitations,
the ALJ must evaluate whether the claimant’s subjective statements are consistent
with and supported by the record as a whole. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c); SSR 16-3p.
“The credibility of a claimant’s subjective testimony is primarily for the ALJ to
decide, not the courts.” Pearsall, 274 F.3d at 1218. I must defer to the ALJ’s
credibility determinations “so long as such determinations are supported by good
reasons and substantial evidence.” Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir.
2005). When determining the credibility of a claimant’s subjective complaints, the
ALJ must consider all evidence relating to the complaints, including the claimant’s
daily activities; the duration, frequency and intensity of the symptoms; any
precipitating and aggravating factors; the dosage, effectiveness and side effects of
medication; and any functional restrictions. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3); SSR 163p; Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 931 (8th Cir. 2010); Polaski, 739 F.2d at
1322. “[T]he duty of the court is to ascertain whether the ALJ considered all of the
evidence relevant to the plaintiff’s complaints of pain . . . and whether the evidence
so contradicts the plaintiff’s subjective complaints that the ALJ could discount his
or her testimony as not credible.” Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 738-39
(8th Cir. 2004). It is not enough that the record contains inconsistencies. Instead,
the ALJ must specifically demonstrate in her decision that she considered all of the
evidence. Id. at 738; see also Cline v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 560, 565 (8th Cir. 1991).
Where an ALJ explicitly considers the relevant factors but then discredits a
claimant’s complaints for good reason, the decision should be upheld. Hogan v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 962 (8th Cir. 2001).
Here, the ALJ summarized plaintiff’s testimony regarding her daily
activities and subjective allegations of pain and found plaintiff’s statements about
the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects only partially consistent with the
evidence of record. The ALJ acknowledged plaintiff’s reported symptoms and
went on to weigh these allegations against the evidence of record as required by 20
C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3). The ALJ was not required to fully credit all of plaintiff’s
assertions regarding the limitations given her activities, which included household
chores such as caring for a pet, carrying a 40 pound bag of kitty litter, laundry,
sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting, as well as traveling to Florida for vacation and
to visit family.3 (Tr. 18, 47.) Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir.
1996). “Acts such as cooking, vacuuming, washing dishes, doing laundry,
shopping, driving, and walking, are inconsistent with subjective complaints of
disabling pain.” Medhaug v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 805, 817 (8th Cir. 2009). “The
inconsistency between [plaintiff’s] subjective complaints and evidence regarding
Although plaintiff told her doctor that she “picniqued, BBQ’ed and went to Disney World”
while in Florida (Tr. 648.), she denied it at the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 47.)
her activities of daily living also raised legitimate concerns about her credibility.”
Vance v. Berryhill, 860 F.3d 1114,1121 (8th Cir. 2017).
The medical evidence of record also supports the ALJ’s findings and was
properly considered by the ALJ as one factor when assessing plaintiff’s credibility
and evaluating her subjective complaints. See Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 793
(8th Cir. 2005) (lack of corroborating medical evidence is one factor to consider
when evaluating subjective complaints of pain). Although plaintiff testified that
she was unable to pick up things, button clothing, open cans, or grip things, Dr.
Weston found only mild deficits in hand dexterity and 4/5 grip/pinch strength. (Tr.
483.) Moreover, x-rays taken of plaintiff’s hands showed “advanced” changes in
only one proximal interphalangeal joint on her right fifth finger, with only mild
narrowing of other proximal interphalangeal joints. (Tr. 594.) Here, after
summarizing the objective medical evidence of record the ALJ properly concluded
that plaintiff’s subjective allegations regarding the use of her hands were of limited
credibility because they were not supported by the objective medical evidence of
record, an important factor for evaluating a claimant’s credibility. Stephens v.
Shalala, 50 F.3d 538, 541 (8th Cir. 1995).
Additionally, the ALJ also properly considered plaintiff’s conservative
treatment for her allegedly disabling hand pain. (Tr. 18-19, 21, 23, 25.) Plaintiff
received pain medication for her impairments that helped to some degree and did
not cause side effects. (Tr. 18, 23, 230, 310, 312, 569.) She also received
injections and had good results with cervical and thoracic manipulations. (Tr. 19,
23, 42, 303, 312,380, 536, 551, 558, 564, 569.) If a claimant’s pain is controlled
by treatment or medication, it is not considered disabling. See Cypress v. Colvin,
807 F.3d 948, 951 (8th Cir. 2015). Moreover, she sought only limited treatment
from Dr. Parker, skipping eight appointments before she saw him a second time in
October of 2018 for hand pain. (Tr. 506.) She also declined the medication
therapy recommended by Dr. Parker. (Tr. 508.) See Lawrence v. Saul, 970 F.3d
989, 996 (8th Cir. 2020) (ALJ’s conclusions as to the severity of pain and
limitations consistent with fact that claimant was prescribed generally conservative
treatment). In evaluating plaintiff’s subjective complaints of pain, “an ALJ may
properly consider the claimant’s . . . failing to take prescription medications [and]
seek treatment . . . .” Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 872 (8th Cir. 2006)
The ALJ expressly acknowledged that plaintiff was experiencing pain and
had some limitations on the use of her hands, but concluded, after evaluating the
entirety of the record, that plaintiff’s limitations were not so severe as to be
disabling. Where, as here, an ALJ seriously considers but for good reasons
explicitly discounts a claimant’s subjective complaints, the Court will not disturb
the ALJ’s credibility determination. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1148 (8th
Cir. 2001). The ALJ evaluated all of the medical evidence of record and
adequately explained her reasons for the weight given this evidence. Substantial
evidence in the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s RFC determination, so I will
affirm the decision of the Commissioner as within a “reasonable zone of choice.”
Fentress v. Berryhill, 854 F.3d 1016, 1021 (8th Cir. 2017) (citing Owen v. Astrue,
551 F.3d 792, 798 (8th Cir. 2008)).
Step 5 Analysis
Plaintiff argues that remand is required because the vocational expert’s
testimony upon which the ALJ relied conflicted with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (DOT). Specifically, plaintiff contends that the reasoning
levels of the jobs identified by the VE in response to a hypothetical posed by the
ALJ are inconsistent with the RFC’s limitation to simple, routine tasks.
Here, the VE testified that a hypothetical claimant with plaintiff’s
vocational profile and RFC could perform work as a photocopy machine
operator, a routing clerk, and a marking clerk. (Tr. 27, 53-54.) The VE further
testified that her testimony was consistent with the DOT. (Tr. 56.) The DOT
defines these identified jobs as having a reasoning level of two, which includes
the ability to apply commonsense understanding to carry out detailed but
uninvolved written or oral instructions. See DOT, 1991 WL 671745, 1991 WL
672133, 1991 WL 671082. Although the ALJ has a duty to ask about “any
possible conflict” between VE evidence and the DOT, the Eighth Circuit Court of
Appeals has held that there is no conflict between an RFC limitation to simple,
routine work and a job requiring a reasoning level of two. See Moore v. Astrue,
623 F.3d 599, 604 (8th Cir. 2010). Therefore, no remand is required to resolve
this alleged conflict. See Welsh v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 926, 930 (8th Cir. 2014).
Because substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s
determination that someone with plaintiff’s RFC could perform the jobs of
photocopy machine operator, routing clerk, and marking clerk, the decision of the
Commissioner must be affirmed.
When reviewing an adverse decision by the Commissioner, the Court’s task
is to determine whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the
record as a whole. Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001). “Substantial
evidence is defined to include such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would
find adequate to support the Commissioner’s conclusion.” Id. Where substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision, this Court may not reverse the
decision merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have
supported a contrary outcome or because another court could have decided the case
differently. Id.; see also Igo v. Colvin, 839 F.3d 724, 728 (8th Cir. 2016); Buckner
v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).
For the reasons set out above, a reasonable mind can find the evidence of
record sufficient to support the ALJ’s determination that plaintiff was not disabled.
Because substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s decision,
it must be affirmed. Davis, 239 F.3d at 966.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that that the decision of the Commissioner is
affirmed, and Pamela Nolan’s complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
A separate Judgment is entered herewith.
RODNEY W. SIPPEL
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 3rd day of June, 2021.
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