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Barras v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

June 30, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT


         I. Introduction:

         Plaintiff, Tomie Jo Barras, applied for disability benefits on March 24, 2014, alleging her disability began on March 6, 2008. (Tr. at 14) Her claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied her application. (Tr. at 25) The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at 1) The ALJ's decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Ms. Barras has requested judicial review.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court[1] affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Ms. Barras had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of March 6, 2008. (Tr. at 16) At Step Two of the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Barras has the following severe impairments: back pain secondary to lumbar degenerative disk disease, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Id.

         After finding that Ms. Barras's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 16), the ALJ determined that Ms. Barras had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work at the unskilled level with additional limitations. (Tr. at 18) Ms. Barras could lift and carry up to 10 pounds frequently and up to 20 pounds occasionally; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and stand for one to two hours at one time without interruption; occasionally climb, stoop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. (Tr. at 18) She could perform unskilled, rote activity; understand, remember, and follow concrete instructions; and maintain superficial contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public, which consists of meeting, greeting, making change, and giving simple instructions and directions. Id.

         The ALJ found that Ms. Barras was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. at 23) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Ms. Barras's age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, specifically cashier II and housekeeper. (Tr. at 24) Based on that Step Five determination, the ALJ held that Ms. Barras was not disabled. (Tr. at 25)

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means less than a preponderance, but “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). Id. (citation omitted). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).

         B. Ms. Barras's Arguments on Appeal

         Ms. Barras argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinion of her treating psychiatrist. She also complains that her mental limitations were not reflected in the hypothetical question posed to the VE.

         The ALJ gave the opinion of Ms. Barras's treating psychiatrist, Elmo Diaz, M.D., little weight, finding that the opinion was not supported by other evidence in the record. (Tr. at 22) A treating physician's opinion should be granted controlling weight if it is supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the record. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015). The opinion of a treating physician, however, does not automatically control; nor does it eliminate the need to evaluate the record as a whole. Id. An ALJ may discount or disregard the opinion of a treating physician when 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 the opinions. Wildman v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 959, 964 (8th Cir. 2010). A review of the medical record offers support for the weight given to Dr. Diaz's opinion.

         Ms. Barras sought counseling for mental impairments from 2013 to 2015. (Tr. at 340-350) Jessica Reed, LCSW, was the primary provider for Ms. Barras, and she diagnosed anxiety-related disorder, mood disorder not otherwise specified, and ADHD not otherwise specified. Id. In August 2014, Ms. Barras reported that Zoloft was helping with her symptoms. (Tr. ...

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