Sterrett v. Colvin
ORDER affirming decision of Commissioner re 1 SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT. Signed on 9/29/2017 by District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. (Stout, Courtney)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
DONNA L. STERRETT,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SSA1;
Case No. 4:16-00840-CV-RK
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s appeal seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability benefits. For the reasons below, the Commissioner’s decision 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
[Commissioner’s] conclusion.’” 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
(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)
Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on January 23, 2017,
however, for consistency purposes, the case style in this action remains as originally filed.
(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) (citation omitted).
By way of overview, the ALJ determined the Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: mental impairments variously diagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and panic
disorder without agoraphobia. However, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff’s impairments,
whether considered alone or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of one of the
listed impairments in 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Despite Plaintiff’s impairments, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels with some nonexertional limitations.2 The ALJ found Plaintiff
incapable of performing past relevant work but found that Plaintiff is capable of performing jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. In doing so, the ALJ relied on
testimony from the vocational expert that Plaintiff would be able to perform the requirements of
a mailroom clerk, sandwich maker, and office helper. Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
was not disabled.
On appeal, Plaintiff alleges errors related to: (1) whether the ALJ’s RFC determination is
supported by substantial evidence of the record as a whole, claiming errors related to weighing
medical opinions, GAF scores, third-party opinions, and a disability determination made by the
VA; and (2) whether the ALJ erred in relying on testimony of the vocational expert without
explaining discrepancies between the testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
Upon review of the parties’ briefs and the record, the Court finds the ALJ was entitled to
discount the evidence and opinions of record that are inconsistent with the record as a whole.
Additionally, substantial evidence (Dr. Stacy’s medical opinions;3 Dr. Smith’s treatment notes;
The ALJ found the Plaintiff could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, in a work
environment involving only simple, work related decisions, and with few, if any work place changes; and
further found that Plaintiff requires a job where there is only occasional interaction with coworkers with
no tandem tasks, where the Plaintiff works independently from coworkers; occasional interaction with
supervisors; occasional interaction with the public and where interaction with the public is not a primary
component of the job.
The Court notes that despite the ALJ’s decision stating “great weight” was appropriate for
Dr. Stacy’s opinions, the RFC provides for more limitations than his opinion suggests.
treatment notes finding memory seems intact; treatment notes finding thought content clear and
goal directed; treatment notes observing adequate hygiene and appearance; Plaintiff’s activities
including driving, attending church, emailing, chores, and caring for children and pets; Plaintiff’s
dating; and the apparent organization and presentation of Plaintiff’s case to the ALJ) supports the
ALJ’s RFC determination. Because the ALJ properly weighed and considered the evidence of
record and the ALJ’s RFC determination is supported by substantial evidence, the Court cannot
reverse even though there is some evidence (medical opinions of Drs. Smith and Sumerall; thirdparty opinions; GAF scores; and a disability determination by the VA) that may support the
opposite conclusion. Additionally, the Court finds that the vocational expert’s testimony, at least
with respect to the mail clerk position, is not inconsistent with the RFC. See Martin v. Berryhill,
2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137718, at *12 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 28, 2017) (finding a mail clerk position
as listed in the DOT was not inconsistent with an RFC that limited plaintiff to simple work)
(citing Welsh v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 926, 930 (8th Cir. 2014)).
Having carefully reviewed the record before the Court and the parties’ submissions on
appeal, the Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Roseann A. Ketchmark
ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATED: September 29, 2017
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