Pierce v. Colvin
ORDER affirming decision of Commissioner re 3 Social Security Complaint. Signed on 9/12/2017 by District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. (Perry, Madison)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
SUSAN D. PIERCE,
CAROLYN COLVIN1, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 3:16-05025-CV-RK
Before the Court is Plaintiff Susan D. Pierce (“Plaintiff”)’s appeal seeking judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The decision of the
Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Standard of Review
The Court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny disability benefits is limited
to determining if the decision “complies with the relevant legal requirements and is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole.”
Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ford v. Astrue, 518 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 2008)); see also
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is
‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would find adequate to support the
Grable v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)). In determining whether existing
evidence is substantial, the Court takes into account evidence that both supports and detracts
from the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) findings. Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102
(8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted). “If the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, [the Court] may not reverse even if substantial evidence would support the opposite
outcome or [the Court] would have decided differently.” Smith v. Colvin, 756 F.3d 621, 625
Nancy A. Berryhill became acting commissioner of Social Security on January 23, 2017;
however, for consistency purposes, the case style in this action remains as originally filed.
(8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis, 239 F.3d at 966). The Court does not re-weigh the evidence
presented to the ALJ.
Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)
(citing Baldwin v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003)).
The Court should “defer
heavily to the findings and conclusions of the [Commissioner].” Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734,
738 (8th Cir. 2010).
By way of overview, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: disorder of the cervical spine, attention deficit disorder, learning disability not
otherwise specified, major depressive disorder, bipolar mood disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality
disorder, alcohol dependence, and Xanax dependence. The ALJ also acknowledged that Plaintiff
has been diagnosed with impairments that are not severe and three rule-out mental health
diagnoses. However, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff’s impairments, whether considered
alone or in combination, met or medically equaled the criteria of one of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (“Listing”). Despite Plaintiff’s limitations, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with several
exceptions and limitations. Based on Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ found Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a cleaner/housekeeper. Alternatively, the ALJ found that
there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can
perform. Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act from
March 26, 2013 through the date of the ALJ’s decision.
On appeal, Plaintiff alleges errors related to whether the ALJ: (1) properly found Plaintiff
did not meet the adaptive functioning requirement of Listing 12.05(C), (2) properly weighed the
opinion of Nurse Practitioner Barbara Kuzara, and (3) properly formulated Plaintiff’s RFC.
To meet the requirements of Listing 12.05(C)2, a claimant must demonstrate, among
other things, “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive
Listing 12.05(C) was deleted from the Listing of Impairments on January 17, 2017. See 81 Fed.
Reg. 66138 (Sept. 26, 2016). However, the Social Security Administration has indicated that it does not
intend for courts to apply the revised Listings in evaluating final agency decisions rendered prior to
January 17, 2017. See Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders, 81 Fed. Reg. 66138 n.1
(Sept. 26, 2016) (“We expect that Federal courts will review our final decisions using the rules that were
in effect at the time we issued the decisions.”). Therefore, the Court will analyze Plaintiff’s arguments as
if Listing 12.05(C) still exists.
functioning initially manifested . . . before age 22.” Scott v. Berryhill, 855 F.3d 853, 856
(8th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.05(C)) (internal quotations
omitted). Substantial evidence (including evidence that Plaintiff takes care of three children by
assisting them with getting ready for school, preparing meals, and putting them to bed; does the
laundry and cleans the house; has a driver’s license and shops for food; is able to pay bills;
sometimes attends doctor’s appointments alone; and has no problem with bathing, feedings, and
toileting) supports the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff did not demonstrate adaptive function deficits.
See Scott, 855 F.3d at 856-857 (finding that an individual who did not complete high school, had
a history of attending special education classes, read poorly, could not balance a checkbook,
could not manage finances or complete forms without assistance, but who was able to maintain
unskilled and semi-skilled work for multiple years, generally lived independently, communicated
well, had a driver’s license, could cook meals, do laundry, and follow instructions, did not show
deficits in adaptive functioning).
Because the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the Court cannot reverse even though there is some evidence (Plaintiff dropped out of
high school; was enrolled in special education classes; had trouble with reading, writing and
math; had never maintained a savings account and could not manage a checkbook or count
change; and did not handle stress well) that may support the opposite conclusion. Additionally,
the Court finds that the ALJ properly weighed the opinion of Nurse Practitioner Barbara Kuzara3
and properly formulated Plaintiff’s RFC.4
The Court agrees that there were inconsistencies in Ms. Kuzara’s opinion and treatment notes,
and therefore, finds that the ALJ was permitted to discount the weight of Ms. Kuzara’s opinion. See
Halverson v. Asture, 600 F.3d 922, 930 (8th Cir. 2010) (an ALJ may discount the opinion of a treating
physician when the opinion is inconsistent with the physician’s treatment notes); Toland v. Colvin, 761
F.3d 931, 936 (8th Cir. 2014) (“A treating physician’s own inconsistency may . . . undermine his opinion
and diminish or eliminate the weight given his opinions.”) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
There is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ’s RFC determination. An RFC
determination must be supported by some medical evidence, but “an ALJ may satisfy this obligation by
considering a professional’s treatment notes.” Seitz v. Colvin, No. 5:15-cv-06151-NKL, 2016 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 92707, at *16 (W.D. Mo. July 18, 2016); see also Bowling v. Colvin, No. 4:15-CV-03080-DGKSSA, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71104, at *5 (W.D. Mo. June 1, 2016). Importantly, “the ALJ is not
required to rely on specific medical opinions in assessing a claimant’s RFC, and the ALJ does not in all
circumstances need to acquire additional medical opinions to evaluate a record containing conflicting
information.” Payne v. Colvin, No. 2:15-cv-04229-NKL, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 74371, at *8-9
(W.D. Mo. June 8, 2016). Here, the record was sufficient for the ALJ to make a proper determination
without seeking additional medical evidence.
Having carefully reviewed the record before the Court and the parties’ submissions on
appeal, the Court concludes that substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s
IT IS THEREFORE, ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
s/ Roseann A. Ketchmark
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATED: September 12, 2017
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