United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
K.E. Mahoney United States Magistrate Judge.
Lisa Shelton seeks judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying
her application for supplemental security income (SSI) under
title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1385. Shelton argues that the administrative law judge
(ALJ), Eric S. Basse, erred in determining residual
functioning capacity (RFC) because he discredited the
statements of Shelton and others, he did not give sufficient
weight to the medical opinions, and he required objective
evidence of Shelton's limitations. I recommend affirming
the ALJ's decision.
suffers from a combination of physical and mental
impairments, including problems with her back, knees, feet,
and neck; obesity; anxiety; and depression. AR 12, 15-18,
Shelton applied for SSI disability benefits on October 3,
2014, a little more than a week after receiving notice that
the Appeals Council would not be reviewing a previous denial
of benefits. AR 10, 95.
Commissioner denied Shelton's initial application for SSI
benefits in February 2015. AR 99-117. In connection with that
determination, Shelton had a one-time consulting examination
with Dr. Mark Taylor, who then evaluated her physical
RFC.AR 101-02, 105, 681-686. State agency
medical consultants Dr. Matthew Byrnes and Dr. Russell Lark
also assessed Shelton's physical and mental RFC,
respectively, after reviewing treatment notes, Dr.
Taylor's opinion, and Shelton's self-reported
abilities and limitations. AR 101-104, 107-114. Dr. Lark also
conducted a telephone interview with Shelton. AR 113.
right knee worsened after the Commissioner's initial
denial, and Shelton and her stepdaughter (whom she lives
with) submitted updated function reports in April 2015. AR
129, 317-32, 335-42. A month later, in May 2015, Shelton had
knee-replacement surgery on her right knee. AR 884-87. As
part of the Commissioner's denial on reconsideration,
issued in July 2015, state agency medical consultant Dr.
Marlene Gernes reviewed the updated evidence and evaluated
Shelton's physical RFC, determining that it had worsened
since the Commissioner's initial denial. AR 128-133,
138-39. Dr. Myrna Tashner also evaluated Shelton's mental
RFC and affirmed the initial assessment. AR 133-136.
requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 165-66. After a video
hearing on April 6, 2016, at which Shelton and a vocational
expert testified, the ALJ issued a written opinion following
the familiar five-step process outlined in the
regulations to determine whether Shelton was disabled.
AR 10-23, 30-31. The ALJ found that Shelton suffers from the
following severe impairments: “degenerative joint
disease of the bilateral knees, status-post total right knee
replacement, degenerative disc disease, obesity, history of
interstitial lung disease, history of plantar fasciitis,
major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder.” AR
12. To evaluate whether Shelton's impairments prevented
her from performing her past work or other work, the ALJ
determined Shelton's RFC, considering several medical
opinions and assigning weight to each one. AR 14-22.
gave little weight to the mental RFC opinions of
Shelton's treating psychiatric nurse practitioner, Nancy
Howe (NP Howe), and her treating psychologist, Dr. Luke
Hansen. AR 18, 934-35, 1053-54. Dr. Hansen and NP Howe filled
out mental RFC forms that were a little more than a page
long. AR 934-35, 1053-54. They indicated that they had been
treating Shelton since September 24, 2015, for recurrent
major depression. AR 934, 1053. Dr. Hansen indicated that
Shelton also suffered from anxiety. AR 1053. Dr. Hansen found
that Shelton could perform simple tasks on a sustained basis;
NP Howe found that Shelton's ability would depend on her
pain and mood stability. AR 934, 1053. Dr. Hansen opined that
Shelton's ability to pay attention, sustain pace, and
maintain attendance at work were “[l]imited based on
mood [and] pain, ” while NP Howe found it
“[u]npredictable but sustained.” Id.
Both Dr. Hansen and NP Howe found that Shelton's ability
to work and interact with other people would depend on her
pain and mood. Id. Dr. Hansen similarly found that
Shelton's ability to accept changes in the workplace
would depend on her mood and pain; NP Howe found she would
have no difficulties dealing with change. Id. Both
NP Howe and Dr. Hansen found Shelton would miss more than
four days of work a month. AR 935, 1054.
also gave little weight to the physical RFC assessment of Dr.
Michael Brooks, Shelton's treating rheumatologist who
evaluated her RFC in March 2016. AR 18, 39, 1028-30. Like Dr.
Hansen and NP Howe, Dr. Brooks filled out a short RFC form.
AR 1028-30. He opined that Shelton could carry twenty pounds
multiple times throughout the day for a total of two and a
half hours. AR 1028. In an eight-hour day, he found that she
could stand for two hours in thirty-minute increments and
that she could sit for six hours in two-hour increments.
Id. He also found that she could not kneel, crawl,
squat, or engage in repetitive overhead use of her arms.
Id. Finally, Dr. Brooks found that Shelton would
miss about four days of work a month. AR 1029.
also assigned little weight to the physical RFC opinion of
Dr. Taylor, the consulting examiner. AR 17-18, 680-88. Dr.
Taylor opined that Shelton would need to alternate between
sitting, standing, and walking as needed for comfort. AR 685.
He restricted her lifting to between ten and twenty pounds,
depending on the level of lifting (i.e., knee, waist, or
chest level). AR 684-85. He also opined that she could rarely
kneel, crawl, stoop, bend, or climb stairs, and that she
could never climb ladders. AR 685. Dr. Taylor also
recommended rare exposure to fumes and extreme temperatures.
gave partial weight to the RFC opinions of the state agency
medical consultants. AR 20-21. Dr. Lark and Dr. Tashner found
that Shelton faced only mild and moderate limitations because
of her depression and anxiety. AR 105-06, 111-13, 127,
134-35. They found that she faced moderate limitations in her
ability to maintain attention for extended periods; to
understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; to
complete a normal workday and work week without interruptions
from her mental impairments; to respond to changes in the
workplace; to perform at a consistent pace without an
unreasonable number of rest periods; and to interact
appropriately with coworkers and the general public. AR
111-13, 134-35. They found that she faced no significant
limitations in her ability to understand, remember, and carry
out simple instructions; to maintain regular attendance; to
work in coordination or proximity to others without being
distracted by them; to make simple work-related decisions;
and to accept criticism from supervisors. Id.
agency medical consultants Dr. Byrnes and Dr. Gernes found
that Shelton could frequently lift ten pounds and
occasionally lift twenty pounds. AR 108, 129. They found that
she could occasionally stoop, climb stairs, and crouch, but
never crawl, climb ladders, or kneel. AR 108, 129-30. They
recommended that she avoid concentrated exposure to extreme
temperatures and fumes. AR 109, 130. They found that she
could sit for six hours in an eight-hour day with normal
breaks. AR 108, 129. Dr. Byrnes found that she could stand
for six hours, but he made this assessment before
Shelton's right-knee surgery and before degenerative
changes in Shelton's left knee. AR 108, 129. Dr. Gernes
found that Shelton could stand for four hours in an
eight-hour day. AR 129. Considering these medical opinions,
as well as treatment notes, Shelton's testimony, and
function reports, the ALJ determined Shelton's RFC as
[Shelton] has the residual functional capacity to perform a
range of sedentary to light work . . . such that she could
lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently. She could stand and walk for four hours in an
eight-hour workday, in increments. She could sit at least six
hours in an eight-hour workday. She could never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, never kneel, and never crawl.
She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as
occasionally balance, stoop, and crouch. She could not have
concentrated exposure to extremes of heat, cold, and
humidity, as well as no concentrated exposure to pulmonary
irritants. She would require a cane for ambulation. She would
be limited to simple, routine tasks, with short, simple
instructions. She could perform simple work-related decisions
with occasional workplace changes. She could have occasional
interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.
AR 14-21. The ALJ did not fully credit Shelton's
statements, nor the third-party statements submitted by
Shelton's mother-in-law and stepdaughter. AR 16, 19-21,
321-28, 335-42, 374.
on his assessment of Shelton's RFC, the ALJ found that
jobs existed that Shelton could perform and that she was not
disabled. AR 22-23. The Appeals Council denied Shelton's
request for review on June 10, 2016 (AR 1-3), making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481 (2016).
filed a timely complaint in this court, seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 3).
See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c). The parties briefed
the issues (Docs. 12-14), and the Honorable Linda R. Reade,
United States District Judge for the Northern District of
Iowa, referred this case to me for a Report and
must affirm the ALJ's decision if it “is supported
by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.”
Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007);
see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial
evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough that a
reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a
decision.” Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707. The court
“do[es] not reweigh the evidence or review the factual
record de novo.” Naber v. Shalala, 22 F.3d
186, 188 (8th Cir. 1994). If, after reviewing the evidence,
“it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions from
the evidence and one of those positions represents the
[ALJ's] findings, [the court] must affirm the
decision.” Robinson v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 836,
838 (8th Cir. 1992).
challenges only the ALJ's RFC determination, arguing that
the ALJ erred in evaluating her credibility, that the ALJ
should have given more weight to third-party statements and
the medical opinions, and that some medical evidence does not
support the resulting RFC determination. Keeping the
substantial-evidence standard in mind, I address each of
Shelton's arguments in turn.