Rogers v. Colvin
ORDER Signed on 9/12/2017 by District Judge Roseann Ketchmark. (Stout, Courtney)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
CAROLYN COLVIN1, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Complaint seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff’s application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”). ((See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)). Upon review, the
decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Standard of Review
The Court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision 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)). “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,
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.
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)
(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 that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease; loss of visual acuity; Raynaud’s disease; and Buerger’s
disease. However, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff’s impairments, whether considered alone
or in combination, meets or medically equals the criteria of one of the listed impairments in
20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Considering Plaintiff’s limitations, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
with several additional limitations. The Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibration; can do no work requiring
detailed vision; and cannot be exposed to dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights.
The ALJ found that while Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work, there are jobs in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as housekeeping
“cleaner” and usher. As a result, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined under
the Act from May 3, 2012, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ’s decision.
In Plaintiff’s appeal of the ALJ’s decision, Plaintiff raises the following issues:
(1) whether the ALJ properly weighed the opinion of Plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Ronald
Evans; (2) whether the ALJ properly determined the Plaintiff’s RFC; and (3) whether the ALJ
properly assessed Plaintiff’s credibility. Based on how the issues interrelate, the Court addresses
them in reverse order.
First, it was proper for the ALJ to discredit Plaintiff’s credibility, despite Plaintiff’s
complaints of severe limitations, because the record indicates Plaintiff is able to perform daily
activities including: cleaning, shopping, cooking, paying bills, utilizing public transportation, and
maintaining appropriate grooming and hygiene habits. See Medhaug v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 805,
817 (8th Cir. 2009).
Second, the ALJ did not err by discounting the treating physician’s opinion because the
physician’s opinion was based heavily on Plaintiff’s subjective complaints. Wildman v. Astrue,
596 F.3d 959, 967 (8th Cir. 2010) (an ALJ is entitled to discount a treating physician’s opinion
when the treating physician’s opinion relied on the plaintiff’s subjective complaints which were
properly discredited). Additionally, the treating physician’s opinion is conclusory because the
opinion is in checkbox format, cites no medical evidence, and is without explanation or
elaboration. Id. at 964.
Finally, in assessing Plaintiff’s RFC, the ALJ properly considered and weighed the
available medical evidence and Plaintiff’s statements. See Wildman, at 596 F.3d at 969 (an ALJ
must assess a claimant’s RFC based on all relevant evidence). As discussed above, the ALJ
properly discounted the treating physician’s opinion. The ALJ then assigned partial weight to
the consultative examiner’s opinion finding that Plaintiff had no limitations because the medical
evidence supports that Plaintiff does have some limitations.
When considering the other
objective medical evidence, the ALJ found a lack of positive clinical findings which did not
support the full extent of Plaintiff’s complaints.2 Therefore, the record as a whole supports the
ALJ’s conclusion that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a limited range of light work.
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
The objective medical findings include: medical examinations of Plaintiff exhibiting normal
posture, normal gait, negative straight leg testing, normal upper and lower extremity strength and tone,
Plaintiff’s report in July 2012 that Plaintiff felt “better” and did not want surgical intervention, no
evidence of joint damage from October 2012 through May 2013, and physician treatment notes that
indicate Plaintiff’s Buerger’s disease is managed with medication.
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