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Dewbre v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 8, 2019



          Kelly K.E. Mahoney Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Alishia S. Dewbre seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Dewbre argues that the administrative law judge (ALJ), Kristi Bellamy, erred by failing to provide good reasons for discounting the mental residual functional capacity (RFC) opinion of a consultative examiner and by failing to “adequately consider the combined effects of [her] impairments, including her potential conversion disorder.” Doc. 11. Dewbre also raises (for the first time) an Appointments Clause challenge in reliance on Lucia v. SEC, 138 S.Ct. 2044 (2018). I recommend affirming the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [1]At her therapist's recommendation, Dewbre filed an application for SSI benefits on February 14, 2014, after a three-day hospitalization due to being suicidal. AR 133, 458, 647, 754. She later amended her onset date to the date the application was filed. AR 17. Dewbre's SSI application was denied initially in May 2014 and on reconsideration in August 2014. AR 132-154.

         She requested a hearing before an ALJ, and a video hearing was held on September 24, 2015. AR 69-70. A written opinion issued on November 18, 2015, denying her request for benefits, but the Appeals Council vacated that opinion and remanded for further consideration. AR 158-169, 177-179. A second video hearing, before a different ALJ, was held on July 10, 2017. AR 92-93. Dewbre and a vocational expert testified. AR 92-93. On July 31, 2017, the ALJ issued a written opinion following the familiar five-step process outlined in the regulations[2] and once again denied Dewbre's request for benefits. AR 17-29. The ALJ found that Dewbre suffers from the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, obesity, schizoaffective disorder, and panic disorder. AR 20. To evaluate whether Dewbre's impairments prevented her from performing her past work (step four) or other work (step five), the ALJ determined Dewbre's RFC[3]:

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] . . . to perform less than a full range of light work . . . . She can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, sit up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, stand/walk up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can occasionally perform postural activities except never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks and simple work-related decisions. She can tolerate occasional changes in a routine work setting. She can have occasional interaction with supervisors. She can have brief and superficial interaction with co-workers and the general public. The claimant would be absent from work 1 day a month due to anxiety.

AR 22. Based on her RFC, age, education, and work experience, the ALJ found that a significant number of jobs existed that Dewbre could perform-specifically, as a housekeeping cleaner, small-products assembler, or conveyor-line bakery worker. AR 28-29. The ALJ thus determined that Dewbre was not disabled during the relevant time period (February 14, 2014, to July 31, 2017). AR 29.

         The Appeals Council denied Dewbre's request for review on April 23, 2018 (AR 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Dewbre filed a timely complaint in this court (Docs. 1, 3). See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c). The parties briefed the issues (Docs. 11-13), 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 Recommendation.


         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).

         Dewbre argues that the ALJ did not give a good reason for discounting the mental RFC opinion of one-time consultative examiner Timi Jordison, PhD, which resulted in an RFC unsupported by substantial evidence. Dewbre also argues that the ALJ erred in determining RFC because she did not adequately consider the combined effects of her mental and physical symptoms, including any potential conversion disorder. Finally, Dewbre argues that the ALJ's appointment to that position violates the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution.

         A. Medical Opinion

         When determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ considers “medical opinions . . .together with the rest of the relevant evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b). The ALJ considers the following factors to determine the weight to assign a medical opinion:

(1) whether the source has examined the claimant; (2) the length, nature, and extent of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination; (3) the extent to which the relevant evidence, “particularly medical signs and laboratory findings, ” supports the opinion; (4) the extent to which the opinion is consistent with the record as a whole; (5) whether the opinion is related to the source's ...

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