Flowers v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION - The Court is satisfied that the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record. In addition, the Court finds substantial evidence contained within the entire record to support the ALJ's determination that Flowers alcoholism is a contributing factor material to his disability determination. Accordingly, the Court will affirm the final decision of the Commissioner. A separate order will be issued in accordance with this memorandum opinion. Ordered by Senior Judge Lyle E. Strom. (GJG)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
MICHAEL WARREN FLOWERS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of the Social
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff’s motion
for order reversing Commissioner’s decision (Filing No. 18) and
defendant’s motion to affirm Commissioner’s decision (Filing No.
The Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denied Michael Warren Flowers’ (“plaintiff” or
“Flowers”) request for disability insurance benefits.
careful review of the briefs, the entire record before the Court,
and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Commissioner’s
decision should be affirmed.
On July 22, 2012, plaintiff applied for disability
insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration
(Filing No. 12-2 at 12).
Plaintiff’s claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration (Id.).
A hearing was
conducted before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August
21, 2014 (Id.).
The ALJ held that plaintiff was not disabled
under the Social Security Act and denied plaintiff disability
insurance benefits (Id. at 23).
The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff’s request for review making the ALJ decision the final
decision of the Commissioner (Id. at 2).
On March 11, 2016, the
plaintiff filed a complaint with the Court seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner’s decision (Filing No. 1).
II. Standard of Review
The Commissioner’s decision will be affirmed “if the
record contains substantial evidence to support it.”
Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 966 (8th Cir. 2003).
evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a
reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir.
“In determining whether existing evidence is substantial,
[a court should] consider evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it.”
Hutsell v. Massanari, 259 F.3d 707, 711 (8th Cir. 2001).
record reveals substantial evidence supporting the Commissioner’s
decision, then that decision should not be reversed merely
because “substantial evidence exists in the record that would
have supported a different outcome.”
Hutsell, 259 F.3d at 711.
Finally, the claimant “bears the burden of proving disability.”
Teague v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 611, 615 (8th Cir. 2011).
The plaintiff moves the Court to reverse the
Commissioner’s decision (Filing No. 18).
The parties agree that
the specific issues before the Court are whether
the ALJ (1) was required to give
Mr. Flowers’ treating source’s
opinions controlling weight; (2)
whether the ALJ properly evaluated
the materiality of Mr. Flowers’
alcoholism pursuant to SSR 13-2p;
(3) whether the ALJ properly
determined alcoholism to be a
contributing factor material to the
disability determination; and (4)
whether the ALJ fulfilled her duty
to fairly and fully develop the
Filing No. 19 at 11; see also Filing No. 21 at 7.
A. Weight Given to Treating Source’s Opinion
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in not giving Dr.
Nitcher’s opinions, as a treating source, controlling weight
(Filing No. 19 at 13).
Flowers asserts that the ALJ did not
allege inconsistency between Dr. Nitcher’s opinions and other
substantial evidence in the record (Id. at 15).
further argues that the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for
giving Dr. Nitcher’s opinions less than controlling weight
(Filing Id. at 17).
A treating physician’s opinion “will be granted
controlling weight, provided the opinion is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence in the record.”
Singh v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 448, 452 (8th
Cir. 2000); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2) and 416416.927(c)(2).
“ALJ may give a treating doctor’s opinion limited weight if it
provides conclusory statements only, or is inconsistent with the
Samons v. Astrue, 497 F.3d 813, 817-18 (8th Cir. 2007)
(internal citations omitted).
The Court has reviewed plaintiff’s arguments assigning
error to the ALJ in failing to give Dr. Nitcher’s opinions
Based upon a thorough review, the Court is
satisfied that substantial evidence and good reasons support the
ALJ’s credibility determinations with regard to Dr. Nitcher’s
B. Determination of Materiality of Plaintiff’s Alcoholism
While plaintiff cites two issues dealing with the
materiality of Flowers’ alcoholism (Filing No. 19 at 11),
plaintiff addresses both of these issues in one section of his
See Filing No. 19 at 18-21.
Accordingly, the Court will
address the application of SSR 13-2p and the determination of
Flowers’ alcoholism as a contributing factor material to his
disability determination together.
First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ ignored policy
dictated in SSR 13-2 evidenced by omitting the policy from the
decision (Filing No. 19 at 18).
The Court disagrees.
required content of an ALJ’s decision with regard to SSR 13-2p is
addressed in the policy itself.
See SSR 13-2p, ¶ 14(a)
(requiring adjudicators to provide “sufficient information so
that a subsequent reviewer considering all of the evidence in the
case record can understand the reasons for the . . . findings
whenever [Drug Addiction and Alcoholism] materiality is an
The Court is satisfied that the ALJ’s decision
provides sufficient information for subsequent review in
accordance with SSR 13-2p.
Next, the plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly
determined the materiality of plaintiff’s alcoholism (Filing No.
19 at 18-21).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s decision is
unsupported by substantial evidence to support a finding that
Flowers’ alcoholism is contributing factor material to his
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ improperly
relied upon evidence from treatments for co-occurring mental
health issues and substantial evidence from outside of highly
structured treatment environments (Id. at 18-21).
In determining whether alcoholism is a contributing
material factor to the determination of disability, “[t]he key
factor . . . is whether [the Commissioner] would still find [the
plaintiff] disabled if [the plaintiff] stopped using drugs or
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1535(b)(2), 416.935(b)(2).
provides the policy for the Social Security Administration in
determining the materiality of alcoholism.
This SSR provides an
analytical outline of how a materiality determination is made.
See SSR 13-2p.
The Court finds that the ALJ’s materiality
determination regarding Flowers’ alcoholism is supported by
Furthermore, the Court is satisfied that
the ALJ’s decision comports with the requirements of SSR 13-2p.
C. Development of the Record
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by not fully and
fairly developing the record (Filing No. 19 at 21).
argues that the ALJ should have clarified what Flowers perceived
as an ambiguity in Dr. Nitcher’s opinion as well as obtain
further information from lay witness testimony regarding Flowers’
ability to work if sober (Id. at 22-23).
Finally, the plaintiff
argues that the ALJ prematurely determined the outcome of
Flowers’ case (Id. at 23).
The claimant has the burden to prove disability and to
provide evidence with regard to the existence and severity of an
Kamann v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 945, 950 (8th Cir. 2013)
(citing Snead v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 834, 836 (8th Cir. 2004)); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1512.
“‘[A]n ALJ is permitted to issue a decision
without obtaining additional medical evidence so long as other
evidence in the record provides a sufficient basis for the ALJ’s
Kamann, 721 F.3d at 950 (quoting Naber v. Shalala,
22 F.3d 186, 189 (8th Cir. 1994)).
The Court is satisfied that the ALJ fully and fairly
developed the record.
In addition, the Court finds substantial
evidence contained within the entire record to support the ALJ’s
determination that Flowers’ alcoholism is a contributing factor
material to his disability determination.
Accordingly, the Court
will affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.
order will be issued in accordance with this memorandum opinion.
DATED this 25th day of January, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Lyle E. Strom
LYLE E. STROM, Senior Judge
United States District Court
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