Whitson v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION that the Court finds the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. A separate order will be entered in accordance with this memorandum opinion. Ordered by Senior Judge Lyle E. Strom. (ADB)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
CHASE TYLER WHITSON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of the Social
This matter is before the Court on the complaint of
plaintiff Chase Tyler Whitson (“Whitson”) for review of the
defendant’s denial of Social Security Disability Benefits.
I. Standard of Review
When reviewing an ALJ’s decision, the Court “must
determine ‘whether the ALJ’s decision complies with the relevant
legal requirements and is supported by substantial evidence in
the record as a whole.”
Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 920
(8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Halverson v. Astrue, 600 F.3d 922, 929
(8th Cir. 2010)).
“In the review of an administrative decision,
the substantiality of evidence must take into account whatever in
the record fairly detracts from its weight.
Thus, the Court must
also take into consideration the weight of the evidence in the
record and apply a balancing test to evidence which is
Id. at 921 (quoting Halverson, 600 F.3d at 929).
Substantial evidence “is less than a preponderance, but enough
that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir.
2012) (quoting Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir.
However, the Court may not reverse the Commissioner’s
decision “simply because some evidence may support the opposite
Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 892, 897 (8th Cir.
2011) (quoting Medhaug v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 805, 813 (8th Cir.
The claimant alleges two errors by the ALJ that lead to
a decision unsupported by substantial evidence.
The Court will
address each issue in turn.
A. Hypothetical to the Vocational Expert
Claimant contends that the ALJ failed to pose a
hypothetical to the vocational expert that included all of the
limitations supported by the evidence.
The hypothetical posed to
the vocational expert must include all limitations supported by
Pickney v. Chater, 96 F.3d 294, 297 (8th Cir. 1996).
However, as discussed below, the ALJ’s decision to exclude
certain limitations was supported by substantial evidence.
According to the claimant, testimony from his father
indicated limitations that were not included.
The ALJ considered
the father’s testimony and explained that it was due “little
weight” because it was “not entirely consistent with the fact
that the claimant is stable when he is compliant with his
The ALJ balanced the father’s testimony that
“anything stressful puts the claimant into a manic state” against
the reports of the claimant’s treating physician which indicated
that “claimant was stable when he was compliant with taking his
medication” and came to the reasonable conclusion that the
father’s testimony deserved “little weight.”
In refusing to credit the father’s testimony, the ALJ
also noted that the father’s “statements are inconsistent with
the claimant working above the SGA level for a significant period
Claimant argues that because he has not been
substantially gainfully employed since 2006, the ALJ’s decision
to disregard his father’s testimony on that basis unreasonably
relied on employment that had long since ceased.
Contrary to claimant’s contention, the ALJ found that
claimant met the requirements for substantial gainful activity in
2009 and the first quarter of 2010.
The ALJ’s finding was based
on the Social Security Administration regulations which provide
guidelines for substantial gainful activity where wages exceed a
specified amount for a particular year.
See 20 CFR 404.1574.
Claimant has not substantiated his contention that he has not
been gainfully employed since 2006 or rebutted the ALJ’s findings
of SGA in 2009 and 2010.
The ALJ’s balancing of recent
substantial gainful activity against the father’s testimony
regarding limitations during that period was reasonable.
fully complied with his duty to consider contradictory evidence
and made a reasonable determination that the contradictory
evidence was due little weight.
Claimant also contends that evidence suggesting a GAF
score below 60 was ignored in determining his Residual Functional
The ALJ did consider the claimant’s GAF scores but
determined that when claimant was compliant with his medication
regimen, the GAF scores were consistently above 50 -- a score
that “may be associated with a serious impairment in occupational
Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614 (8th Cir. 2007)
In determining the severity of the impairment,
the ALJ also considered the more detailed analysis performed by
Drs. Schroeder and Kimzey as well as the fact that claimant had
engaged in substantially gainful activity for significant periods
after the alleged onset date of April 15, 2005.
GAF scores are
not conclusive evidence of a claimant’s level of mental
See Hudson ex rel. Jones v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 661,
666 (8th Cir. 2003).
This is especially true where, as here, the
claimant maintained higher GAF scores when compliant with his
The ALJ’s determination that the latter data
was more accurate in determining the claimant’s level of mental
functioning was not unreasonable.
Rather, the ALJ supported his
determination with substantial evidence from the record that
contradicted the primacy of the low GAF scores.
Having found that the ALJ made no error in determining
the limitations which were presented to the vocational expert,
the Court finds that the RFC was supported by substantial
B. Discontinuing Treatment Due to Lack of Financial Resources
Aside from listing this issue under the heading
“Statement of the Issues” and quoting from a topical case,
claimant made only passing reference to this issue in his brief.
Claimant’s brief contains no argument or citations to the record
that indicate a financial hardship or a link between that
hardship and claimant’s decision to discontinue treatment.
Rather, the ALJ noted the treatment records of claimant’s
physicians which indicated that he frequently failed to follow
through or show up for appointments.
Given that claimant has
failed to point to any evidence in the record that would suggest
the ALJ should have considered claimant’s lack of financial
resources, the evidence cited by the ALJ is the sole evidence
regarding claimant’s motivation for discontinuing treatment.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds the Commissioner’s
decision should be affirmed.
A separate order will be entered in
accordance with this memorandum opinion.
DATED this 26th day of September, 2013.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Lyle E. Strom
LYLE E. STROM, Senior Judge
United States District Court
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