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Grooms v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

September 29, 2017

JESSIE J. GROOMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Kelly K.E. Mahoney, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Jessie Grooms seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for disability insurance (DI) benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Grooms argues that the administrative law judge (ALJ) erred in determining residual functional capacity (RFC). I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Grooms injured his back during a construction accident in 1999 and had back surgery in 2000. AR 437. He was able to continue working, but in 2013, his back pain began to worsen. Grooms had to take Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave several times due to back pain-he was working for a company that packages and distributes herbicide chemicals, and his job involved sitting or standing while watching machinery, dumping twenty to forty pound sacks into barrels, and rolling fifty-pound barrels around to different machines. AR 44-45, 281, 366, 383. He quit in May 2013 after suffering anxiety attacks that left him unable to work. AR 437. His need to miss work due to pain contributed to his anxiety. AR 263, 270, 437.

         Grooms filed an application for DI benefits on May 9, 2013, alleging disability beginning on May 2, 2013. AR 13. He alleged disability based on back and knee pain, hypertension, arthritis, anxiety, and depression. AR 140. He was referred for a psychological consultative examination with Dr. Dan Rogers, who submitted an opinion evaluating Grooms' mental RFC. AR 144, 442-44. State agency consultants Dr. Matthew Byrnes and Dr. Philip Laughlin evaluated his physical and mental RFC, respectively, in connection with the initial disability determination in August 2013. AR 140-54. Grooms' DI application was denied. AR 154. On reconsideration in October 2013, state agency consultant Dr. Jan Hunter evaluated his physical RFC, state agency consultant Dr. Myrna Tashner evaluated his mental RFC, and his application was denied once again. AR 155-71.

         Grooms requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 184. He submitted as additional evidence a physical RFC opinion from one-time examining physician Dr. Basil Hassan, who met with Grooms on January 7, 2015. AR 550-54. The ALJ held a hearing on January 13, 2015, at which Grooms and a VE testified. AR 32-33. On February 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written opinion following the familiar five-step process outlined in the regulations.[2] AR 13-24. The ALJ found Grooms suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, right knee patellofemoral syndrome, and anxiety disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder. AR 15. When determining Grooms' RFC, the ALJ did not fully credit Grooms' subjective complaints, instead finding:

[Grooms] has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . such that he could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He could stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. He could only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He could not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. He could only occasionally reach overhead bilaterally. He could have no more than occasional exposure to extreme cold. He would be limited to performing tasks learned in 30 days or less, involving only simple work-related decisions, requiring little to no judgment, with only occasional workplace changes.

AR 17, 21. When determining RFC, the ALJ assigned great weight to the state agency consultants' opinions, little weight to Dr. Rogers' opinion, and little weight to Dr. Hassan's opinion. AR 19-20, 22. The ALJ found that Grooms could perform his past work as a hand packager, and thus, that he was not disabled. AR 22-23.

         The Appeals Council denied Grooms' request for review on April 27, 2016, (AR 1-3) making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Grooms filed a timely appeal in this court. Doc. 2.


         A court 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).

         Grooms argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence.[3] Grooms argues that the ALJ should have adopted the limitations opined by Drs. Rogers and Hassan. Particularly, Grooms emphasizes that he has greater limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace than found by the ALJ, that he has difficulties interacting with others, and that he would not be able to sit or stand for six hours in an eight-hour day without shifting positions or taking breaks.

         Dr. Rogers opined in July 2013:

Whatever the cause, [Grooms] would have moderate difficulty understanding and remembering instructi[o]ns, procedures, and locations. His pace is poor and combined with his low attention and concentration, he cannot reliably carry out instructions. He is not able to interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers, or the public. Judgment seems to be ...

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