United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
CHRISTOPHER B. McKEITHEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
RULING ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Complaint (docket number 1) filed by Plaintiff Christopher B. McKeithen on September 22, 2014, requesting judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny his application for Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. McKeithen asks the Court to reverse the decision of the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") and order the Commissioner to provide him disability insurance benefits and SSI benefits. In the alternative, McKeithen requests the Court to remand this matter for further proceedings.
II. PRINCIPLES OF REVIEW
Title 42, United States Code, Section 405(g) provides that the Commissioner's final determination following an administrative hearing not to award disability insurance benefits is subject to judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), the Commissioner's final determination after an administrative hearing not to award SSI benefits is subject to judicial review to the same extent as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides the Court with the power to: "[E]nter... a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner... with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "The findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive..." Id.
The Court "must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.'" Bernard v. Colvin, 774 F.3d 482, 486 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 577 (8th Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence is defined as less than a preponderance of the evidence, but is relevant evidence a "reasonable mind would find adequate to support the commissioner's conclusion.'" Grable v. Colvin, 770 F.3d 1196, 1201 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2011)).
In determining whether the ALJ's decision meets this standard, the Court considers "all of the evidence that was before the ALJ, but it [does] not re-weigh the evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Court not only considers the evidence which supports the ALJ's decision, but also the evidence that detracts from his or her decision. Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1091 (8th Cir. 2012); see also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007) (Review of an ALJ's decision "extends beyond examining the record to find substantial evidence in support of the ALJ's decision; [the court must also] consider evidence in the record that fairly detracts from that decision."). In Culbertson v. Shalala, 30 F.3d 934, 939 (8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals explained this standard as follows:
This standard is something less than the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a zone of choice within which the [Commissioner] may decide to grant or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.'
Id. (quoting Turley v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d 524, 528 (8th Cir. 1991), in turn quoting Bland v. Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988)). In Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549 (8th Cir. 2011), the Eighth Circuit further explained that a court "will not disturb the denial of benefits so long as the ALJ's decision falls within the available zone of choice.'" Id. at 556 (quoting Bradley v. Astrue, 528 F.3d 1113, 1115 (8th Cir. 2008)). "An ALJ's decision is not outside that zone of choice simply because [a court] might have reached a different conclusion had [the court] been the initial finder of fact.'" Id. Therefore, "even if inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from the evidence, the agency's decision will be upheld if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole." Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Chamberlain v. Shalala, 47 F.3d 1489, 1493 (8th Cir. 1995)); see also Draper v. Colvin, 779 F.3d 556, 559 (8th Cir. 2015) ("If substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's conclusions, th[e] court does not reverse even if it would reach a different conclusion, or merely because substantial evidence also supports the contrary outcome.' Travis v. Astrue, 477 F.3d 1037, 1040 (8th Cir. 2007)."); Cline v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) ("As long as substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision, [the court] may not reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because [the court] would have decided the case differently.' Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002).").
A. McKeithen's Education and Employment Background
McKeithen was born in 1983. He is a high school graduate. While in school, he was enrolled in special education programs. After high school, he attended 3.5 years of college, but did not obtain a degree. Later, he attended community college and worked on an Associates Degree.
In the past, McKeithen worked as a automobile detailer, cashier, kitchen helper, commercial cleaner, and store laborer/stocker.
B. Vocational Expert's Testimony from the April 2, 2013 Administrative Hearing
At the hearing, the ALJ provided vocational expert Roger Marquardt with a hypothetical for an individual who: (1) has no physical limitations, (2) requires limited interactions with others, including no interaction with large groups of people, (3) is limited to routine, structured, predictable work, (4) is able to perform more than just one and two-step job tasks, and (5) cannot work at a production rate pace. The vocational expert testified that under such limitations, McKeithen could perform his past relevant work as an automobile detailer, kitchen helper, commercial cleaner, and store laborer/stocker. The vocational expert also testified that under such limitations, McKeithen could perform the following additional jobs: (1) payroll clerk, (2) production clerk, (3) deposit-refund clerk, (4) housekeeping cleaner, (5) lot attendant, and (6) non-postal mail clerk. The ALJ provided the vocational expert with a second hypothetical which was identical to the first hypothetical except that the individual would also miss work three or more times per month. The vocational expert testified that such an additional limitation would preclude competitive employment.
C. McKeithen's Medical History
On November 29, 2011, McKeithen was referred by Disability Determination Services ("DDS") to Kevin Krumvieda, Ph.D., for a psychological evaluation. In his report, Dr. Krumvieda reviewed McKeithen's employment history and workplace difficulties:
[McKeithen] states that he is good at obtaining work but has difficulty focusing. He noted that something will stress him (usually being criticized) which will then bring his focus to the criticism and not on his work. He will be spending quite a bit of time thinking how to defend himself against the criticism.... He will become frustrated at work and call in sick. He then does not go to work. He is let go for unexcused absences. This has been his employment pattern since 2004.
(Administrative Record at 377.) With regard to his psychiatric history, Dr. Krumvieda noted that McKeithen has been treated for ADHD since elementary school, and takes medication for anxiety. McKeithen also reported that in the past, he participated in psychotherapy and found it beneficial. Upon examination and testing, Dr. Krumvieda diagnosed McKeithen with Asperger's disorder and adjustment disorder with anxiety. Dr. ...