United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
above matter came before the undersigned on June 26, 2019
upon Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16)
and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22).
The Court heard oral argument on the matter and then ruled on
record at the hearing, denying Mr. C.'s motion and
granting the Commissioner's motion. The Court carefully
explained its reasoning during its ruling from the bench, and
this order is intended to briefly restate that decision.
Court's evaluation of an ALJ's determination is
performed with deference to the ALJ. See Kelley v.
Barnhart, 372 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court
reviews the ALJ's conclusions to determine whether they
are consistent with the law and whether they are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Baker v.
Barnhart, 457 F.3d 882, 892 (8th Cir. 2006); Tellez
v. Barnhart, 403 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2005). The
Commissioner's findings “as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a
reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support the
Commissioner's conclusion.” Haggard v.
Apfel, 175 F.3d 591, 594 (8th Cir. 1999). Where
substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's
findings, the Court should not reverse those findings merely
because other evidence exists in the record to support the
opposite conclusion. Mitchell v. Shalala, 25 F.3d
712, 714 (8th Cir. 1994).
argued that this case should be remanded for three reasons.
First, he argued that the ALJ erred when he rejected the
opinion of Mr. C.'s treating physician, Dr. Soltis.
Second, he challenged the ALJ's rejection of his treating
therapist, Mr. Toonstra's, opinion. Finally, he argued
that the ALJ erred by failing to consider Mr. C.'s
“stellar work history” in his credibility
should give a treating physician's opinion controlling
weight if it is well-supported with accepted medical evidence
and not inconsistent with substantial evidence in the record.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). An ALJ need not accept a
treating physician's opinion if it does not meet these
criteria. Davidson v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 838, 842 (8th
Court found that the ALJ erred when he gave no weight to Dr.
Soltis's January 22, 2015 opinion, but that the error was
ultimately harmless. The ALJ's sole cited reason for
rejecting the January 2015 opinion was that it was on a form
created for a different purpose. However, the form contained
relevant medical information that was totally separate from
the purpose of the form. For example, it listed diagnoses and
permanent physical and mental limitations based upon those
diagnoses. The ALJ should have considered the content of the
form, rather than its origin. The Court finds that this error
was harmless because the form was not entitled to much weight
for other reasons. Overall, the conclusions reached on the
form are somewhat inconsistent with Dr. Soltis's other
opinion, and at odds with her own treatment notes and the
other evidence in the record.
Dr. Soltis's November 16, 2016 opinion was properly given
only partial weight by the ALJ because it was inconsistent
with itself, with Dr. Soltis's own treatment notes, and
the other evidence in the record. For example, Dr. Soltis
opined that Mr. C. could walk and stand for three hours
total, whereas in the January 2015 opinion, she opined that
he could only walk or stand for ten minutes.
(Compare R. 529 with R. 538.) It is also
inconsistent with the substantial evidence of the record as a
whole. Neurologist Wolscott Holt indicated that Mr. C. had
“pretty good” gait and station, and that he was
able to walk on his toes and his heels. (R. 466.) Dr. Holt
also noted negative straight leg raises, and that evidence of
neuropathy was limited. (Id.) Other improvements to
Mr. C.'s condition were regularly noted in the record.
(See, e.g., R. 615-16 (grip strength improvement),
R. 743 (improvement to range of motion in shoulder).) Mr.
C.'s activities also weigh against Dr. Soltis's
opinion. Mr. C. engages in physical activity such as mowing
the lawn, shoveling snow, car repair, woodworking, fishing,
and hunting. (R. 18-24.) While Mr. C. describes some reduced
ability to perform those activities, the record indicates
that he is still able to engage in them regularly.
did not err when he gave no weight to the opinions of Mr.
Toonstra and Mr. Stenlund. Mr. Stenlund's opinion was
based largely on Mr. C.'s unsupported subjective
complaints. See Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 709
(8th Cir. 2007). And Mr. Toonstra is not an “acceptable
medical source, ” which permits the ALJ to consider any
consistencies within the record regarding his opinion.
Lawson v. Colvin, 807 F.3d 962, 967 (8th Cir. 2015)
Mr. Toonstra's opinion was based on Mr. C's
“mental health issues and reported chronic pain and
fatigue.” To the extent that Mr. Toonstra considered
Mr. C.'s physical conditions in his opinion, that opinion
is outside of Mr. Toonstra's expertise. See Wildman
v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 966-67 (8th Cir. 2010). And Mr.
Toontra's opinion failed to distinguish what of Mr.
C.'s limitations resulted from his mental health issues,
rather than his chronic pain and fatigue.
although Mr. C. argues that the ALJ failed to consider his
work history, the ALJ did so explicitly in his decision, but
found that, due to the lack of support for Mr. C.'s
limitations, his work history would not bolster his arguments
enough to require a different result. (R. 25.) The ALJ also
discussed Mr. C.'s work history with him during the
hearing. (R. 42-44.) It is clear that the ALJ considered the
Mr. C.'s work history in this case.
for the reasons stated on the record at the hearing, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16)
2. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22)