United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
RANDALL E. KNIGHT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
K.E. Mahoney United States Magistrate Judge.
Randall E. Knight seeks judicial review of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner)
denying his application for supplemental security income
(SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Knight argues that the
administrative law judge (ALJ), Julie K. Bruntz, erred by
discounting Knight's subjective allegations, affording
minimal weight to his therapist's residual functional
capacity (RFC) opinion, and failing to order consultative
examinations. I recommend that the Commissioner's
decision be affirmed.
filed an application for SSI benefits on August 15, 2013,
alleging a disability onset date of April 30, 2001. AR 17,
107-08. Subsequently, Knight amended his application to
allege a disability onset date of August 15, 2013. AR 181,
254. The parties do not allege any issue with respect to
Knight's amended alleged onset date.
alleged disability due to coronary artery disease, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (also called emphysema),
high blood pressure, past heart attacks, “anxiety,
depression, social phobia, schizoid, [and] avoidant
personality.” AR 107-08. Knight's application was
denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 17, 107-19,
121-35. In connection with those reviews, state agency
consultants Drs. Donald Shumate and Laura Griffith evaluated
Knight's physical RFC,  and Drs. Dee Wright and Beverly
Westra evaluated his mental RFC. AR 112-17, 128-33. Drs.
Shumate and Wright issued their RFC opinions in October 2013,
and Drs. Griffith and Westra issued their opinions in March
held a video hearing on September 22, 2015, and issued a
written decision denying Knight SSI benefits on October 7,
2015, following the familiar five-step process outlined in
the regulations. AR 17-31, 38-39. The ALJ found that
Knight's severe impairments included emphysema; coronary
artery disease, status post remote myocardial infarction and
interventions; COPD; status post hernia surgery; depression;
and anxiety. AR 19. The parties do not contend that the ALJ
erred in assessing the severity of Knight's impairments.
evaluate whether Knight could perform his past or other work,
the ALJ determined his RFC:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . such
that he could lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently. The claimant can stand and/or walk for six
hours of an eight hour workday and sit for six hours of an
eight hour workday. His ability to push and pull, including
the operation of hand and foot controls, is unlimited within
the above weights. He is left handed. He can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes and
scaffolds and never work around heights and dangerous
machinery. He can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl and he has no limits on balancing. He should avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, fumes, odors, gases,
poor ventilation and dust. [Knight] is limited to simple,
routine tasks and can have only short-lived superficial
contact with the public, coworkers and supervisors.
AR 21. To determine Knight's RFC, the ALJ considered
treatment records, the claimant's testimony, function
reports, and RFC opinions from the state agency consultants
and Knight's therapist. AR 21-29. The ALJ assigned
“great weight” to the opinions of the state
agency consultants and “minimal weight” to the
opinion of Knight's therapist, Tamara Taylor-Hillyer
(Therapist Taylor-Hillyer), a licensed social worker. AR
27-29. The ALJ ultimately found that although Knight could
not perform his past relevant work, he could work as a
counter attendant, production worker, or laundry sorter. AR
30-31. As a result, the ALJ found that Knight was not
disabled. AR 31.
Appeals Council denied Knight's request for review on
November 2, 2016 (AR 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.1481. Knight 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. 14, 17,
and the Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief United States
District Judge for the Northern District of Iowa, referred
this case to me for a Report and Recommendation.
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).
alleges that the ALJ erred in three ways: (1) improperly
discounting Knight's subjective allegations without
identifying inconsistencies in the record as a whole; (2)
failing to properly evaluate the opinion of Therapist
Taylor-Hillyer; and (3) failing to order consultative
examinations. Doc. 14.