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Kraus v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 26, 2019

AMBER L. KRAUS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security; Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Susan M. Bazis United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Amber Kraus (“Plaintiff”) claims in this Social Security appeal that the Commissioner's decision to deny her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income 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.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (TR. 159). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (TR. 177). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and a hearing was held on March 7, 2017. (TR. 156).

         On May 23, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (TR. 171). The ALJ's decision evaluated Plaintiff's claim under the five-step sequential analysis prescribed by the Social Security Regulations.[1] See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of asthma, anxiety, depression, and a history of substance abuse. (TR. 161). The ALJ formulated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] as follows:

[Plaintiff] as the [RFC] to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she is able to perform work away from fumes, odors, astringents, and other types of items commonly associated with someone who has a breathing problem. She is capable of performing simple work due to some problem with maintaining attention and concentration for extended periods nee1ded for more complex work. [Plaintiff] is able to understand and follow simple instructions and is able to get along with supervisors, peers, and the general public as she has worked at those types of positions in the past. [Plaintiff] is able to make simple work related decisions and adjustments to changes in the work setting. Finally, [Plaintiff] is able to perform work away from concentrated cold and heat.

(TR. 164). The ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work but determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (TR. 170-71.) These jobs include cashier, router, and counter clerk. (TR. 171.)

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (TR. 284.) The request was denied. (TR. 1.) Having been denied review by the Appeals Council, the ALJ's decision stands at the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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 (8th Cir. 2001).

         ANALYSIS

         1.Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in assigning “little weight” to the opinions of her treating physicians, Dr. Walter Duffy (“Dr. Duffy”) and Dr. Kirk Kinberg (“Dr. Kinberg”). Dr. Kinberg is Plaintiff's treating physician in the specialty of asthma, allergy, and immunology. (TR. 77.) Dr. Kinberg, who has treated Plaintiff since 2012, opined that Plaintiff is unable to work due to asthma. Dr. Duffy, who, according to Plaintiff, has been her treating mental health physician for fifteen years, opined that Plaintiff cannot work due to her mental impairments. In discounting these treating physicians' opinions, the ALJ stated, among other things, that the opinions did not provide any “function by function analysis” and were “vague and imprecise.” (TR. 169.)

         “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). However, 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 . ...


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