United States District Court, D. Minnesota
KATHERINE MENENDEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
(“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 17; Def.'s Mot.
for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 19.)
For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that
Tasha W.'s (hereafter Ms. W) motion for summary judgment
be DENIED and the Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment be GRANTED.
Procedural History and ALJ Decision
9, 2014, Ms. W. applied for supplemental security income,
alleging disability beginning June 1, 2012 due to diabetes
mellitus, depression, schizophrenia, foot pain due to
diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure. (R. 10, 252.) Her
claim was originally denied on October 3, 2014, and again
upon reconsideration on March 20, 2015. (R. 10.) Ms. W. filed
a written request for a hearing on April 21, 2015, and a
hearing was held on August 5, 2016 before Administrative Law
Judge Roger W. Thomas. (Id.) ALJ Thomas issued an
unfavorable decision on September 19, 2016. (R. 24.) Ms. W.
then requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied
her request (R. 6), making the ALJ's decision the final
decision ripe for judicial review. E.g., Sims v.
Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
Thomas performed the five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether Ms. W. was disabled. At Step 1, he found
that Ms. W. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the application date. (R. 12.) Although Ms. W. does
work part time, ALJ Thomas determined that this work did not
rise to the level of substantial gainful activity.
2, ALJ Thomas found that Ms. W. had severe impairments caused
by schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder and cognitive
limitations. (Id.) He acknowledged that Ms. W. had
been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and had a history of
deep vein thrombosis, but found both conditions to be
non-severe. (Id.) ALJ Thomas cited several factors
for determining Ms. W.'s physical impairments to be
non-severe. First, he noted that Ms. W.'s diabetes
mellitus was uncontrolled at times due to medication
noncompliance, but that her symptoms improved when her
medication compliance did. (Id.) ALJ Thomas also
found that Ms. W.'s history of deep vein thrombosis was
non-severe her condition was not continuing in nature.
(Id.). He determined that the state agency medical
consultant's conclusions that both conditions were
non-severe was consistent with the overall evidence in the
record, and therefore gave them great weight. (Id.)
3, ALJ Thomas determined that none of Ms. W.'s severe
impairments, nor the combination of her various impairments,
met or equaled the severity of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404 Subpart P, Appx. 1. (R. 13.) He assessed Ms.
W.'s severe mental impairments and considered whether the
“paragraph B” criteria in listings 12.03, 12.04,
and 12.05 (paragraph D in listing 12.05) were satisfied. To
satisfy these criteria, the mental impairments must result in
at least two of the following: marked restriction of
activities of daily living; marked difficulties in
maintaining social functioning; marked difficulty maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace; and repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration. 20 C.F.R. §
404(P) Appx. 1. ALJ Thomas found that Ms. W. suffered from
only mild restrictions in activities of daily living, and
moderate restrictions in social functioning and
concentration, persistence, or pace, and that she had
suffered no episodes of decompensation of an extended
duration. (R. 13-14.) ALJ Thomas also considered whether Ms.
W. met other criteria in listing 12.05, but ultimately
concluded that she did not. (R. 15-16.)
4, ALJ Thomas found that Ms. W. had the residual functional
capacity to perform work at all exertional levels, but that
she required certain non-exertional limitations.
Specifically, he limited Ms. W. to work with only very basic
instructions, routine work with changes to instructions no
more than once a week, with changes to be made gradually. (R.
16.) He further limited her to simple, unskilled tasks with
limited stress, and no high production goals or fast-paced
assembly line work. (Id.) Finally, he found Ms. W.
could have only brief and superficial contact with others.
5, ALJ Thomas determined that Ms. W. was capable of
performing work according to her RFC, and that sufficient
suitable jobs exist in the national economy. (R. 23.) He
cited the vocational expert's testimony, who suggested
that Ms. W. could perform the job of housekeeper or cleaner
II. (Id.) Accordingly, he determined that Ms. W. was
reviewing a “not disabled” determination, the
Court does not seek to impose its own opinion on the record.
Instead, the Court's review is limited to whether the
decision is supported by “substantial evidence on the
record as a whole, ” and is free from legal error.
Gann v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 947, 950 (8th Cir.
2017); Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir.
2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“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.” Blackburn v. Colvin, 761 F.3d
853, 858 (8th Cir. 2014) (internal citations and quotation
marks omitted). When reviewing the Commissioner's
decision, the Court must consider both evidence supporting
the decision and evidence in the record that “fairly
detracts from that decision.” Reed v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005). However,
the Court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision
simply because substantial evidence in the record could
support a different conclusion. Gann, 864 F.3d at
950; Reed, 399 F.3d at 920. Rather, reversal is only
warranted when the Commissioner's decision is not
reasonable; i.e., it is outside “the available zone of
choice.” See Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549,
556 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528
F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008).
Ms. W.'s Diabetes Mellitus
argues that ALJ Thomas erred when he determined that her
diabetes mellitus was non-severe. She argues that he
overlooked the ongoing nature of her struggle to manage her
diabetes and the frequency with which it was poorly
controlled. Ms. W. also emphasized the role that her
intellectual disability played in making it difficult to
control her condition through either diet or medication.
Court disagrees with Ms. W. for several reasons. And finds
that ALJ Thomas's conclusion on this point is supported
by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. First, the
record demonstrates that Ms. W.'s diabetes mellitus is
largely controlled with medication. When Ms. W. experienced
an increase in symptoms, it was due to treatment
noncompliance. (See, e.g., R. 1054-55, 1061-62
(diabetes mellitus poorly controlled when regularly missing
medication and following inconsistent diet).) However, Ms.
W.'s symptoms improve greatly when she follows treatment
consistently. (See, e.g., R. 1083-84.) Indeed, ALJ
Thomas noted that Ms. W.'s A1c level was improving with
treatment. (R. 12.) When a condition can be effectively
treated, it is not severe. Phillips v. Colvin, 721
F.3d 623, 631 (8th Cir. 2013); cf. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1530(b) (failure to follow prescribed treatment will
result in a finding of not disabled). To the extent that Ms.
W. argues that her noncompliance is ...