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Landuyt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division

March 5, 2018

KARI L. LANDUYT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Kelly K.E. Mahoney United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Kari L. Landuyt, 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. Landuyt argues that the administrative law judge (ALJ), Julie K. Bruntz, erred by failing to find Landuyt's fibromyalgia constitutes a severe impairment, in assigning weight to her treating physician's opinions, and by failing to order a consultative examination. I recommend affirming the ALJ's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Landuyt filed an application for DI benefits on June 17, 2013, alleging disability as of May 11, 2012, based on severe osteoarthritis in her back, numbness and tingling in her feet and hands, tight hip and thigh muscles, grinding and clicking in her knees, fatigue, heart arrhythmia, and balance issues. AR 84-85. Her application was denied initially in August 2013 and on reconsideration in November 2013. AR 84-95, 96-110. As part of those reviews, state agency consultants from the Iowa Disability Determination Service (DDS) evaluated Landuyt's physical residual functional capacity[2] (RFC), and assessments were completed by Tracey Larrison, D.O., in August 2013, and by John May, M.D., in November 2013. AR 91-93, 105-08.

         Landuyt requested a hearing before an ALJ, and after a continuance on June 16, 2015, to allow Landuyt to obtain representation, a video hearing was held on October 27, 2015. AR 13, 28-33. Landuyt was 40 years old at the onset of her alleged disability and 44 years old at the time of her administrative hearing. AR 33, 38, 85. On December 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a written opinion, following the familiar five-step process outlined in the regulations[3] for determining whether Landuyt was disabled. AR 9-21.

         The ALJ found that Landuyt suffered from severe impairments[4] of disorders of the back, cardiac dysrhythmia, and myofascial pain syndrome but that none of Landuyt's impairments met or equaled applicable listings. AR 14-15. To determine whether Landuyt's impairments prevented her from working, the ALJ determined:

[Landuyt] has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . such that she can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She could stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. Her ability to push and pull, including the operation of hand and foot controls, would be unlimited within those weights. She is right-hand dominant. She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, as well as occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. She could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and never crawl. She would need to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, fumes, odors, gases, poor ventilation, dust, and wetness.

AR 15.

         In evaluating Landuyt's RFC, the ALJ considered Landuyt's statements about her symptoms (which the ALJ did not fully credit), statements from Landuyt's husband and several friends, medical treatment records, and the July 2015 medical source statement from Landuyt's family physician, Clete Younger, M.D. (to which the ALJ gave little overall weight). AR 16-20, 714-19. Based on her determination of Landuyt's RFC, the ALJ found that Landuyt could perform her past relevant work as a teller and ticket seller. AR 20.

         The Appeals Council denied Landuyt's request for review on January 11, 2017 (AR 1-4), making the ALJ's decision that Landuyt was not disabled the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. The Appeals Council admitted additional medical records from Dr. Younger (from November 13, 2015, through March 4, 2016) and an additional medical source statement from Dr. Younger (this one specifically for fibromyalgia) dated March 9, 2016, into the record. AR 5, 766-785. Landuyt filed a timely complaint in this court (Doc. 3). See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c). The parties briefed the issues (Docs. 13, 14), and the Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, referred this case to me for a Report and Recommendation.

         II. DISCUSSION

         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).

         Landuyt argues that the ALJ erred in three ways: (1) failing to find Landuyt's fibromyalgia was a severe impairment; (2) attributing weight to Dr. Younger's treating-source opinion; and (3) failing to order a consultative examination. See Doc. 13. I will address each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Fibromyalgia as a Severe Impairment

         The ALJ erred, according to Landuyt, by failing to find that her fibromyalgia was a severe impairment, which she further argues affected the weight the ALJ assigned to Dr. Younger's treating source statement. Doc. 13 at 4.

A “severe impairment is defined as one which ‘significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.'” The impairment “must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and ...

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