Knutson v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION - The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed. A separate order will be issued in accordance with this memorandum opinion. Ordered by Senior Judge Lyle E. Strom. (KLF)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
DAVID L. KNUTSON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social
This matter is before the Court with regard to the
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner” or “defendant”), denying disability insurance
benefits and supplemental social security income to David L.
Knutson (“plaintiff” or “Knutson”).
Plaintiff filed a motion for
an order reversing the Commissioner’s decision (Filing No. 15)
and defendant filed a motion to affirm the Commissioner’s
decision (Filing No. 16).
This matter has been fully briefed,
and the administrative record (“record”) has been provided to the
See Filing Nos. 8, 9, 15-1, 17, and 18.
review of the briefs, the record, and applicable law, the Court
finds as follows.
On December 5, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security
income under of the Social Security Act (Filing No. 8-2 at 15).
Plaintiff’s claims were denied initially and again on
On June 10, 2014, plaintiff’s claims were heard in
front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Omaha, Nebraska
On October 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision
denying plaintiff’s claims (Id. at 28).
On January 31, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review, making the
ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner for the
purpose of judicial review (Id. at 2).
On March 15, 2016,
plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court seeking judicial
review in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (Filing No. 1).
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.
A reviewing court does “not reweigh the evidence presented to the
ALJ, and [the court] defer[s] to the ALJ’s determinations
regarding the credibility of testimony, as long as those
determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial
Mabry v. Colvin, 815 F.3d 386, 389 (8th Cir. 2016)
(internal quotation and citation omitted).
“bears the burden of proving disability.”
Finally, the claimant
Teague v. Astrue, 638
F.3d 611, 615 (8th Cir. 2011).
Plaintiff alleges disability due to chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, degenerative lumbar
disc disease, obesity, and anxiety with an onset date of August
1, 2012 (Filing No. 15-1 at 6).
To determine if a claimant is
disabled, the Social Security Administration utilizes a five-step
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Hacker
v. Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir. 2006).
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is determined between steps
three and four of the sequential test.
20 C.F.R. §
This RFC is utilized at steps four and five to
determine if the claimant can perform past relevant work or other
work within the national economy.
Plaintiff claims the ALJ
erred in the determination of Knutson’s RFC, resulting in an
improper step five determination that Knutson would be able to
work in the national economy (Filing No. 15-1 at 18 and 41).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s determination of
Knutson’s RFC is not supported by substantial evidence (Filing
No. 15-1 at 18).
Knutson asserts three assignments of error
related to the ALJ’s RFC determination.
First, plaintiff argues
that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the non-examining
doctors’ opinions (Id. at 21).
Second, plaintiff argues that the
ALJ did not properly weigh and evaluate the opinions of Knutson’s
treating pulmonologist, Dr. Huerta, and Knutson’s primary care
provider, Ms. Belitz (Id. at 25).
Finally, plaintiff argues that
the ALJ did not properly weigh the opinion of consultative
examiner Dr. Patera, and Ms. Belitz’s response to his report (Id.
A claimant’s RFC is a medical question which must be
supported by some medical evidence.
619 (8th Cir. 2007).
Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614,
However, “in evaluating a claimant’s RFC,
an ALJ is not limited to considering medical evidence
Cox, 495 F.3d at 619.
The ALJ bears the
“responsibility to determine a claimant’s RFC based on all
relevant evidence, including medical records, observations of
treating physicians and others, and claimant’s own descriptions
of his limitations.”
(8th Cir. 2001).
Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217
“Even though the RFC assessment draws from
medical sources for support, it is ultimately an administrative
determination reserved to the Commissioner.”
Cox, 495 F.3d at
Finally, “[t]he claimant has the burden to establish his
Marby, 815 F.3d at 390.
After a thorough review of the record as a whole, the
Court finds that the ALJ’s evaluation of, and weight provided to,
each medical opinion in the record is supported by good reasons
and substantial evidence.
See Mabry, 815 F.3d at 389.
Accordingly, the ALJ’s determination that Knutson’s RFC permitted
him to perform sedentary work with specific limitations was
within the available zone of choice for the ALJ.
See Papesh v.
Colvin, 786 F.3d 1126, 1131 (8th Cir. 2015) (holding that an
ALJ’s decision will only be disturbed if it falls outside the
available zone of choice).
Having found the ALJ’s determination of Knutson’s RFC
is supported by good reasons and substantial evidence, the Court
turns to plaintiff’s other alleged error.
Plaintiff argues that
as a result of an erroneous RFC determination, the ALJ posed an
inaccurate hypothetical question to the vocational expert (Filing
No. 15-1 at 41).
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ’s reliance on
the resulting testimony from the vocational expert led to an
erroneous determination, at step five of the sequential test,
that Knutson can perform other sedentary work in the national
At the January 10, 2014, hearing, the ALJ posed a
hypothetical question to the vocational expert premised on the
See Filing No. 8-2 at 72.
The vocational expert testified
that there was other work within the national economy that a
person with Knutson’s RFC and limitations could perform (Id. at
The ALJ subsequently found that Knutson was not disabled
at step five of the sequential test (Filing No. 8-2 at 28).
Where the Court has determined that the ALJ’s
determination regarding Knutson’s RFC is supported by good
reasons and substantial evidence, the hypothetical question posed
by the ALJ to the vocational expert was not improper.
the testimony from the vocational expert and the entire record,
the Court finds that the Commissioner’s burden to show that jobs
exist in the national economy that Knutson can perform has been
Accordingly, the final decision of the Commissioner will be
A separate order will be issued in accordance with
this memorandum opinion.
DATED this 2nd day of February, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Lyle E. Strom
LYLE E. STROM, Senior Judge
United States District Court
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