United States District Court, D. Nebraska
KIMBERLY A. FRIESEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. Bazis United States Magistrate Judge.
Kimberly Friesen (“Plaintiff”) claims in this
Social Security appeal that the Commissioner's decision
to deny her benefits under the Social Security Act is
contrary to law and not supported by substantial evidence.
Having considered all arguments and materials presented, and
for the reasons explained below, the Commissioner's
decision will be affirmed.
April 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental benefits under the Social Security Act. (TR.
179.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing in
September, 2015. (TR. 117.) An administrative hearing was
held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”)
on March 17, 2017. (TR. 36.)
20, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 12.)
In the decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim by
following the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the
Social Security Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments
of “diabetes, mellitus, fibromyalgia, costochondritis,
dysthymic disorder, a left tibia/fibula fracture (status post
open reduction internal fixation), and anxiety
disorder.” (TR. 17.) The ALJ formulated Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) as follows:
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work . . . except: She is able to lift and/or carry
ten pounds occasionally. She can stand and/or walk about 2
hours in an 8-hour workday (with normal breaks) and can sit
about 6 hours (with normal breaks). She can occasionally
climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She
should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold. She is
limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks
with only occasional decision-making and changes in the work
setting. She can only have occasional interaction with both
coworkers and the public.
(TR. 20.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have any past
relevant work but concluded that there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (TR. 25-26.) These jobs include document
preparer, addressor, and office helper. (TR. 25-26.) Based on
these findings, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (TR. 27.)
requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council on August 21, 2017. (TR. 173.) The Appeals Council
denied the request for review on April 23, 2018. (TR. 1.)
Having been denied review by the Appeal Council, the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security.
denial of benefits by the Commissioner is reviewed to
determine whether the denial is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. See Hogan v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 960 (8th Cir.
2001). “Substantial evidence” is less than a
preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.
Id. at 960-61; Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d
1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). Evidence that
both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's
decision must be considered, but the decision may not be
reversed merely because substantial evidence supports a
contrary outcome. See Moad v. Massanari,
260 F.3d 887, 890 (8thCir. 2001).
appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in placing
limited weight on the opinion of Plaintiff's treating
family physician, Dr. Steven Husen (“Dr. Husen”).
Plaintiff further contends that because the ALJ failed to
afford proper weight to Dr. Husen's opinion, the
hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert failed
to include all limitations supported by the evidence. For the
reasons stated below, the Court concludes that substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's decision.
argues that the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the
opinion of her treating primary care physician, Dr. Husen.
Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ failed to give good
reasons for the weight placed upon Dr. Husen's opinion.
“A 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.” Medhaug v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 805,
815 (8th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted).
A treating physician's opinion does not automatically
control because the record must be evaluated as a whole.
Id. “An 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.” Id. (quotation omitted). Still,
“[w]hether granting a treating physician's opinion
substantial or little weight . . . the commissioner must
always give good reasons . . . for the weight she
gives.” Rentzell v. Berryhill, No. 4:17CV3037,
2018 WL 2050559, at *8 (D. Neb. May 1, 2018) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
Husen has treated Plaintiff for various conditions since
1998. (TR. 588.) On February 21, 2017, Dr. Husen completed a
Medical Source Statement in connection with Plaintiff's
disability claim. (TR. 588-592.) Dr. Husen identified
Plaintiff's symptoms as cognitive dysfunction,
non-restorative sleep, muscle pain, muscle weakness,
insomnia, myofascial pain syndrome, malaise, chronic fatigue
syndrome, waking unrefreshed, and cognitive impairment. (TR.
588.) When asked to identify the medical findings that
support Plaintiff's complaints of pain, Dr. Husen
responded that Plaintiff had “subjective [complaints
of] pain on every visit usually rating pain 7-8/10 point pain
scale” and that Plaintiff “clinically appears to
be in pain when she is [complains of] pain.” (TR. 589.)
As to clinical findings, ...