United States District Court, D. Minnesota
ELIZABETH COWAN WRIGHT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Long M.'s
(“Plaintiff”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt.
No. 13) (“Motion”) and Defendant Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's
(“Defendant”) Cross Motion for Summary Judgment
(Dkt. No. 16) (“Cross Motion”). Plaintiff filed
this case seeking judicial review of a final decision by
Defendant denying his application for disability insurance
benefits. He specifically challenges the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) evaluation of the treating
opinions of Plaintiff's physician and psychologist and
the assessment of his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). For the reasons stated below,
Plaintiff's Motion is denied, and Defendant's Cross
Motion is granted
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on
February 27, 2015, alleging disability beginning February 26,
2014. (R. 188-89.) His application was denied initially (R.
68) and on reconsideration (R. 95). Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an ALJ, which was held on March 21, 2017
before ALJ Charles Thorbjornsen. (R. 16.) The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on June 1, 2017. (R. 13.) Following the
five-step sequential evaluation process under 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a), the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
February 26, 2014, the alleged onset date. (R. 18.)
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairment: major depression. (R. 18.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's other physical impairments
were not severe, including: a cerebrovascular accident
(“CVA”) (stroke); diabetes; hypertension;
hyperlipidemia; chronic kidney disease (“CKD”);
renal insufficiency; right eye impairment; loss of bladder
and bowel control; and pain, numbness, and weakness in the
upper and lower extremities. (R. 19.) The ALJ noted that each
of these impairments were not severe as they had not been
shown to more than minimally interfere with Plaintiff's
ability to engage in basic work activities. (R. 19-22.)
third step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have
an impairment that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. (R. 23.) The ALJ considered the
“paragraph B” criteria as to Plaintiff's
mental impairment, namely major depression, but determined
that Plaintiff had mild limitations in understanding,
remembering, or applying information and in adapting or
managing oneself. (R. 23-24.) The ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had moderate limitations in interacting with others
and in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. (R.
24.) Because Plaintiff's mental impairment did not cause
at least two “marked” limitations or one
“extreme” limitation, the ALJ opined that the
“paragraph B” criteria were not satisfied. 20
C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.00.
also determined that the “paragraph C” criteria
were not met. Id. (“To satisfy the paragraph C
criteria, your mental disorder must be ‘serious and
persistent'; that is, there must be a medically
documented history of the existence of the disorder over a
period of at least 2 years, and evidence that satisfies the
criteria in both C1 and C2 (see 12.00G).”).
four, after reviewing the entire record, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional
He is limited to performing simple, routine, repetitive
tasks. Interaction with supervisors is limited to occasional.
Interaction with coworkers and the general public is limited
to occasional brief and superficial contact with superficial
contact being defined as no lower than an 8 in terms of the
fifth digit of the DOT code.
(R. 25.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
is capable of past relevant work as a machine packager, which
the vocational expert (“VE”) testified a
hypothetical individual with the determined RFC could
perform. (R. 27-28.)
at step five, the ALJ asked the VE what other jobs a
hypothetical person with Plaintiff's RFC, age, education,
and work experience could perform in the national economy.
(R. 28.) Given all the factors, the VE testified that such an
individual could perform jobs such as kitchen helper, laundry
worker, hand packager, and cleaner, which exist in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 28.)
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 29.)
requested review of the decision. (R. 1.) The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, which made the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
(R. 1.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial
review. The Court has reviewed the entire administrative
record, giving particular attention to the facts and records
cited by the parties. The Court will recount the facts of
record only to the extent they are helpful for context or
necessary for resolution of the specific issues presented in
the parties' motions.
review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence on the
record as a whole supports the decision, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), or if the ALJ's decision resulted from an error
of law. Nash v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Administration, 907 F.3d 1086, 1089 (8th Cir. 2018)
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Chismarich v.
Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978, 979 (8th Cir. 2018)).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusions.”
Id. (quoting Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d
1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007)). The Court “considers
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision
as well as evidence that supports it.” Id.
“If substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's conclusions, this court does not reverse
even if it would reach a different conclusion, or merely
because substantial evidence also supports the contrary
disability claimant has the burden to establish her
RFC.” Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
591 (8th Cir. 2004). The Eighth Circuit has held that
“a ‘claimant's residual functional capacity
is a medical question.'” Id. (quoting
Lauer v. Apfel, 245 F.3d 700, 704 (8th Cir. 2001)).
“‘[S]ome medical evidence' must support the
determination of the claimant's RFC, and the ALJ should
obtain medical evidence that addresses the claimant's
‘ability to function in the workplace.'”
Id. (quoting Dykes v. Apfel, 223 F.3d 865,
867 (8th Cir. 2000) (per curiam)). However, “there is
no requirement that an RFC finding be supported by a specific
medical opinion.” Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d
926, 932 (8th Cir. 2016) (citing Myers v. Colvin,
721 F.3d 521, 526-27 (8th Cir. 2013); Perks v.
Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092-93 (8th Cir. 2012)).
treating physician's opinion is given ‘controlling
weight' if it ‘is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence.'” Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d
917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (quoting
Dolph v. Barnhart, 308 F.3d 876, 878 (8th Cir.
2002)). However, an ALJ may properly “discount or even
disregard the opinion of a treating physician where other
medical assessments ‘are supported by better or more
thorough medical evidence' or where a treating physician
renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility
of such opinions.” Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d
1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting Rogers v.
Chater, 118 F.3d 600, 602 (8th Cir. 1997) and citing
Cruze v. Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1324-25 (8th Cir.
1996)). “A treating physician's own inconsistency
may also undermine his opinion and diminish or eliminate the
weight given his opinions.” Id. (citing
Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1013 (8th Cir.
2000)); see also Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790,
793 (8th Cir. 2012) (“However, ‘[a]n ALJ may
discount or even disregard the opinion of a treating
physician where other medical assessments are supported by
better or more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating
physician renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the
credibility of such opinions.'”) (quoting
Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir.
2010)) (alteration in original) (internal quotation omitted).
In any case, “the ALJ must ‘always give good
reasons' for the particular weight given to a treating
physician's evaluation.” Id. (quoting 20
C.F.R § 404.1527(d)(2)).
should consider several factors, in addition to the objective
medical evidence, in assessing a claimant's subjective
symptoms, including daily activities; work history;
intensity, duration, and frequency of symptoms; any side
effects and efficacy of medications; triggering and
aggravating factors; and functional restrictions. See
Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984);
Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p, 2016 WL
1119029, at *5-7 (S.S.A. Mar. 16, 2016) (listing these
factors as relevant in evaluating the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of a person's symptoms). But the ALJ
need not explicitly discuss each factor. See Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 791 (8th Cir. 2005).
“Moreover, an ALJ's failure to cite specific
evidence does not indicate that such evidence was not
considered.” Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959,
966 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted) (highly unlikely that
ALJ did not consider and reject physician's opinion when
ALJ made specific references to other findings set forth in
makes three challenges to the ALJ's determination. First,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment fails to
properly incorporate the mental limitations from
Plaintiff's treating psychologist, Mr. Willie B. Garrett,
LP (“Garrett”). Second, Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ's RFC assessment fails to properly incorporate the
physical limitations from Plaintiff's treating physician,
Shihshen (Angela) Yiu, M.D. (“Dr. Yiu”). Third,
Plaintiff argues that the ...