United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. E. Mahoney, United States Magistrate Judge
Lisa Jo Lema seeks judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying
her application for disability insurance (DI) benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401-434. Lema contends that the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ), Barbara J. Welsch, erred in determining Lema's
residual functional capacity (RFC), that the ALJ's RFC
determination is not supported by substantial evidence, and
that the ALJ did not prove other work exists that Lema could
perform. For the reasons that follow, I
affirm the Commissioner's decision.
suffers from lower back pain, neck pain, some shoulder and
leg pain, and migraines. AR 203, 213, 233, 353. On August 10,
2012, she applied for disability benefits with an alleged
onset date of June 1, 2012. AR 68-69, 133. Her claim was
first denied on October 10, 2012, and upon reconsideration on
January 18, 2013. AR 94, 101. Lema requested an
administrative hearing on March 20, 2013. AR 107-08. The ALJ
conducted a video hearing on Mach 25, 2014, with Lema
appearing by video from Davenport, Iowa, and the ALJ
appearing in Peoria, Illinois. AR 22, 40. Lema testified at
the hearing, along with vocational expert (VE) George B.
Paprocki. AR 22, 39. Lema appeared at the hearing without
counsel. AR 22, 40-42.
2, 2014, the ALJ issued a written opinion, following the
familiar five-step process outlined in the
regulations for determining whether Lema was disabled.
AR 22-33. The ALJ determined that Lema had the following
severe impairments: “spine impairments with back and
neck pain and some shoulder and leg pain, and
migraines.” AR 24. The ALJ also found that Lema
suffered from non-severe mental impairments of depression and
adjustment disorder. Id. The ALJ found Lema had the
to perform light (and sedentary) work . . . because of
possible pain exacerbation including headaches and possible
medication side effects, she should not climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds or work at unprotected heights; and she should
not perform jobs that require over shoulder work.
AR 26. The ALJ then found, based on testimony by
the VE, that a significant number of jobs existed in the
national economy that Lema could perform, including office
helper and photo copy machine operator (both light work), and
document preparer and envelope addresser (both sedentary
work). AR 32-33. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Lema was not
disabled. AR 33.
Appeals Council denied Lema's request for further review
on September 3, 2015 (AR 7-11), making the ALJ's decision
that Lema was not disabled the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The
Appeals Council admitted additional information into the
record, including statements from Lema, new third party
statements, and medical records from May 8, 2014, through
June 10, 2014. AR 7, 10. The Appeals Council also granted
Lema an extension to seek further review and Lema filed a
timely complaint in this court on April 11, 2016. Docs. 1, 3.
The parties briefed the issues and with their consent this
case was assigned to a United States magistrate judge for
final judgment. Doc. 8, 15, 21.
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. When
determining whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision, the court considers all the evidence
before the ALJ but “do[es] not reweigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo.” Naber v.
Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 188 (8th Cir. 1994); accord
Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005).
The court “must search the record for evidence
contradicting the [ALJ's] decision and give that evidence
appropriate weight when determining whether the overall
evidence in support is substantial.” Baldwin v.
Barnhart, 349 F.3d 549, 555 (8th Cir. 2003). The court
must “evaluate in detail the evidence it used in making
its decision and how any contradictory evidence balances
out.” Gavin v. Heckler, 811 F.2d 1195, 1199
(8th Cir. 1987).
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). In other
words, substantial evidence may support the ALJ's
decision “even if [the court] might have weighed the
evidence differently.” Browning v. Sullivan,
958 F.2d 817, 822 (8th Cir. 1992). “The concept of
substantial evidence . . . embodies a zone of choice within
which the [ALJ] may decide to grant or deny benefits without
being subject to reversal on appeal.” Bland v.
Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988).
argues that the ALJ improperly weighed her subjective
complaints and that substantial evidence on the record as a
whole does not support the ALJ's RFC determination. Lema
also argues the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record
regarding the effects of Lema's migraines and the side
effects of her medication. Finally, Lema argues the ALJ
failed to prove a significant number of jobs exist in the
national economy that Lema could perform. I will address
these arguments in turn.
The ALJ's RFC Determination
Weight Given to Lema's Subjective
primarily argues the ALJ erred by failing to consider the
entire medical record. In making this argument, Lema points
to portions of the record she believes support her subjective
complaints and argues that under Cripe v. Apfel, 21
F.Supp.2d 944 (N.D. Iowa 1998), the ALJ improperly
“cherry-picked” from the record. In
Cripe, the court found the ALJ erred in rejecting
the treating physician's opinion because there were no
other medical opinions to support the ALJ's findings, and
rather than fully considering the treating physician's
records, the ALJ “selectively quoted from [the
physician's] treatment notes, isolating any statement
that minimized the plaintiff's condition.” 21
F.Supp.2d at 949. This case is distinguishable. Here, the
overall record, including multiple treatment notes and
medical opinions (as discussed further below), supports the
ALJ's findings. Also, the ALJ here considered information
in the record that both supported and contradicted Lema's
testimony. See AR 27-31. In essence, Lema argues the
ALJ “should have weighed the facts differently or
drawn different conclusions, ” but under the
deferential standard of review, this court does not reweigh
the evidence presented to the ALJ. Hensley v.
Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 934 (8th Cir. 2016). As discussed
below, I find the ALJ provided good reasons for the weight
given to Lema's subjective complaints and that
substantial evidence from the record as a whole supports this
evaluating a claimant's subjective complaints, including
pain, the ALJ must consider the factors set forth in
Polaski v. Heckler: “(1) the claimant's
daily activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity
of the pain; (3) dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of
medication; (4) precipitating and aggravating factors; and
(5) functional restrictions.” Black v. Apfel,
143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998); accord Polaski,
739 F.2d 1320, 1321-22 (8th Cir. 1984), vacated, 476
U.S. 1167 (1986), reinstated, 804 F.2d 456 (8th Cir.
1986). “Other relevant ...