Horner v. Astrue
ORDER affirming ALJ. Signed on 9/4/12 by District Judge Greg Kays. (Francis, Alexandra)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MAYETTA S. HORNER,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of Social Security,
ORDER AFFIRMING ALJ
Plaintiff Mayetta Horner seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s denial of her
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”),
42. U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits
under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. §
Horner alleges she became disabled as of April 1, 2005, and is therefore unable to engage
in substantial gainful employment as a matter of law. After independent review of the record,
carefully considering the arguments set forth by the parties, the Court finds the Commissioner’s
decision denying disability and SSI benefits is supported by substantial evidence on the record as
a whole. The Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
Procedural and Factual Background
The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties’ briefs and are repeated
here only to the extent necessary.
Standard of Review
A federal court’s review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s decision to deny
disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner’s findings are consistent
with the Social Security Act, the relevant case law, and the regulations, and whether they are
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); McKinney v.
Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
it is “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ’s decision.” Id.
In making this determination, the court considers evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it. Id. If substantial evidence in the
record supports the Commissioner’s decision, the court may not reverse because substantial
evidence in the record supports a contrary result or because the court may have decided the case
To establish entitlement to benefits, Plaintiff must show that she is unable to engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d) and 1382(a)(3)(A). To determine a claimant’s eligibility for SSI, the Commissioner
employs a five-step evaluation process.1 See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a).
There is a five-step process for determining eligibility. If the fact-finder determines at any step of the evaluation
process that the claimant is or is not disabled, the inquiry does not continue. The applicant bears the burden of
showing he is disabled from steps one through four of the process. King v. Astrue, 564 F.3d 978, 979 n.2 (8th Cir.
2009). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are other jobs in the economy that the
claimant can perform. Id. The steps proceed as follows: First, the Commissioner determines if the applicant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If so, the applicant is not disabled; if not, the inquiry continues. At
step two, the Commissioner determines if the applicant has a “severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment” or a combination of impairments that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous 12-month period.
If not, the applicant is not disabled; if so, the inquiry continues. At step three, the Commissioner considers whether
the impairment or combination of impairments meets the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 of 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. If so, the applicant is considered disabled; if not, the inquiry continues. At step four, the
In the instant case, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff’s allegations
of disabling symptoms were not credible based on the objective medical evidence, and, therefore,
Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly weighed the medical opinion
evidence, discounting the opinion of her treating physician, according undue weight to the
opinion of a consultative examiner, and failing to provide reasons for his determination.
The ALJ properly considered all the credible evidence of record, including
the medical opinion evidence, in determining Plaintiff’s residual functional
After reviewing and evaluating the evidence of record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the ability to perform a range of light work with some additional mental and physical
limitations. R. at 16-17. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the
opinion of Dr. Glynn, Plaintiff’s treating physician, who indicated that Plaintiff had moderate
and marked limitations in a number of categories. R. at 347-48. Dr. Glynn also found that: (1)
Plaintiff could not perform critical work-related activities on a sustained basis; (2) Plaintiff was
“totally disabled and unemployable,” and (3) Plaintiff’s status was “not expected to improve.”
R. at 343, 348.
The ALJ, however, properly gave little weight to Dr. Glynn’s opinion because it was
inconsistent with the medical evidence of record and the doctor’s own treatment notes. For
example, Dr. Glynn’s records for the periods in question contain no contemporaneous notes of
clinical findings, test results, or measurements that support his conclusion that Plaintiff was
disabled. See Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1041 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing Edwards v. Barnhart,
Commissioner considers if the applicant’s residual functional capacity allows the applicant to perform past relevant
work. If so, the applicant is not disabled; if not, the inquiry continues. At step five, the Commissioner considers
whether, in light of the applicant’s residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience, the applicant
can perform any other kind of work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v) (2009); King, 564 F.3d at 979 n.2.
314 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir. 2003) (“A physician’s statement that is not supported by diagnoses
based on objective evidence will not support a finding of disability.”) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Additionally, in October 2008, Dr. Glynn noted that Plaintiff had a tendency to
exaggerate her symptoms. R. at 268. Finally, the ALJ properly explained his reasoning for
discounting the opinion of Dr. Glynn, fully discussing Dr. Glynn’s findings and how those
findings were inconsistent with the record as a whole.
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ improperly accorded too much weight to the opinion of
Dr. Whisenhunt, a one-time consultative examiner who found that Plaintiff’s poor memory
scores were “less indicative of some underlying organic memory deficit and may have been
exacerbated either intentionally or unintentionally.” R. at 18. The Court finds that the ALJ gave
proper weight to the opinion of Dr. Whisenhunt because it was based on a thorough
psychological evaluation and was consistent with other medical opinions of record.2
Although Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred here, “[i]t is the ALJ’s function to resolve
conflicts among the opinions of various treating and examining physicians.”
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1219 (8th Cir. 2001). The Court holds that the ALJ properly
weighed the medical opinions of record in formulating Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity.
After careful examination of the record as a whole, the Court finds the Commissioner’s
determination is supported by substantial evidence on the record.
Commissioner’s decision is AFFIRMED.
Plaintiff also argues that there are concerns with Dr. Whisenhunt’s opinion because her findings were not based on
the reports and records of all doctors who examined Plaintiff during the relevant period. However, the ALJ
addressed this concern in his opinion, noting that there did not appear to be any evidence of impropriety. R. at 20.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: September 4, 2012
/s/ Greg Kays
GREG KAYS, JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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