Johnston v. Colvin
ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS. Signed on 3/19/15 by District Judge Ortrie D. Smith. (Matthes, Renea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
ELIZABETH MARIE JOHNSTON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, )
Case No. 14-3115-CV-S-ODS
ORDER AND OPINION AFFIRMING
COMMISSIONER’S FINAL DECISION DENYING BENEFITS
Pending is Plaintiff’s appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final
decision denying her application for disability benefits under Title II. The
Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
“[R]eview of the Secretary’s decision [is limited] to a determination whether the
decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Substantial
evidence is evidence which reasonable minds would accept as adequate to support the
Secretary’s conclusion. [The Court] will not reverse a decision simply because some
evidence may support the opposite conclusion.” Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d 712, 714
(8th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this
standard also requires that the Court consider evidence that fairly detracts from the final
decision. Forsythe v. Sullivan, 926 F.2d 774, 775 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Hutsell v.
Sullivan, 892 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir. 1989)). Substantial evidence means “more than a
mere scintilla” of evidence; rather, it is relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th
Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 10, 2011. Her claimed disability
involves a combination of “mild osteoarthritis of the feet and ankles, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, and obesity.” R. at 15.
The ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s credibility by comparing her testimony to (1) her
daily activities and (2) the medical evidence. She also noted Plaintiff’s failure to obtain
diagnostic testing recommended or ordered by the nurse practitioner. R. at 18. The
ALJ then discussed the medical evidence in detail. R. at 19-20. In the course of these
discussions, the ALJ discounted Plaintiff’s credibility and explained (1) that Nurse
Practitioner Jean Smith was not an “acceptable medical source” under the regulations,
(2) why “great weight” was accorded to the opinion of the state-agency consultant, and
(3) how the objective medical evidence impacted Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity
The ALJ found Plaintiff’s RFC permits her to perform light work except she is
limited to sitting for six hours a day, standing or walking six hours a day, and
lifting/carrying ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. The RFC finding
also limited Plaintiff was precluded from climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds, limited to
only occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and
crawling, and required to avoid exposure to heights, machinery, extreme heat and cold,
fumes, odors, and poor ventilation. Finally, Plaintiff “requires a sit/stand option every
half hour, but is able to remain at the workstation while doing so.” R. at 17. Based on
testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ found Plaintiff could not return to her
past work as a kitchen helper, sales clerk, or cottage parent. R. at 20. However, based
on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform work as a mail clerk or a
checker. R. at 21.1
The ALJ also noted Plaintiff could perform these jobs even if she was
“additionally limited to simple, repetitive work,” even though the ALJ did not explicitly
find Plaintiff’s RFC included this limitation. R. at 22.
Plaintiff does not suggest that any of the ALJ’s findings are wrong, or that they
are unsupported by substantial evidence in the Record as a whole. Instead, Plaintiff (1)
generally argues some of the findings are not sufficiently explained and (2) contends the
RFC findings are insufficient because there is no “narrative discussion” connecting each
component of the RFC to a corresponding piece of evidence.
The Court of Appeals has “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.” Senne v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 1065,
1067 (8th Cir. 1999); see also Hepp v. Astrue, 511 F.3d 798, 806 (8th Cir. 2008);
Benskin v. Bowen, 830 F.2d 878, 883 (8th Cir. 1987). So long as the ALJ’s opinion
establishes that the necessary inquires and considerations were made and the findings
were supported by substantial evidence in the Record as a whole, an “arguable
deficiency” in the written opinion – assuming one exists – will not serve as reason to
reverse the final decision.
Here, Plaintiff has presented nothing the Court can consider. Plaintiff gently
questions some of the ALJ’s findings, but does not argue the ALJ’s factual
determinations were unsupported by substantial evidence. Even if Plaintiff’s
interpretation of Social Security Ruling 96-8p is correct (and the Court is not saying that
it is), Plaintiff’s interpretation only addresses a matter of opinion-writing. The cases
cited above demonstrate such a deficiency, alone, is not enough to justify reversal. As
the Eighth Circuit said in Johnson v. Apfel:
the decision of the ALJ demonstrates . . . he considered the entire record,
including the medical testimony, the vocational expert's opinion, Johnson's
testimony and demeanor, and the personal work history of Johnson. . . .
Any arguable deficiency . . . in the ALJ's opinion-writing technique does
not require this Court to set aside a finding that is supported by substantial
evidence. We conclude that there is substantial evidence to support the
decision of the ALJ.
240 F.3d 1145, 1149 (8th Cir. 2001).
The Commissioner’s final decision is affirmed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Ortrie D. Smith
ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATE: March 19, 2015
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