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Elisa Lynde v. Michael J. Astrue

March 4, 2012

ELISA LYNDE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey L. VIKEN United States District Judge

ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the court is a complaint filed by plaintiff Elisa Lynde appealing the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits by the Social Security Administration. (Docket 1). Ms. Lynde moved the court to reverse the Commissioner's determination that she is not disabled and to award benefits immediately. (Docket 14). Defendant opposes the complaint in its entirety as well as the motion to reverse. (Docket 15). The court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The court adopts the parties' Joint Statement of Material Facts ("JSMF") (Docket 11) and incorporates it by reference.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Commissioner's findings must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006). The court must review the Commissioner's decision to determine if an error of law was committed. See Smith v. Sullivan, 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992).

"Substantial evidence is 'less than a preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's conclusion.' " Cox v. Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's decision. See Choate, 457 F.3d at 869 (citing Ellis v. Barnhart, 392 F.3d 988, 993 (8th Cir. 2005)). The review of a decision to deny disability benefits is " 'more than an examination of the record for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision; . . . [the court must] also take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.' " Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir. 2001)).

It is not the role of the court to re-weigh the evidence and, even if this court would have decided the case differently, it cannot reverse the Commissioner's decision if that decision is supported by good reason and is based on substantial evidence. See Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005). A reviewing court may not reverse the Commissioner's decision " 'merely because substantial evidence would have supported an opposite decision.' " Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir. 1995)). Issues of law are reviewed de novo with deference given to the Commissioner's construction of the Social Security Act. See Smith, 982 F.2d at 311.

DISCUSSION

Ms. Lynde asserts that the administrative law judge (ALJ) erred when making a determination she was not disabled. Specifically, Ms. Lynde alleges the ALJ erred when finding her complaints of pain were not credible. Ms. Lynde also asserts the ALJ erred when he rejected the opinions of her treating physicians.

1. Did the ALJ properly assess Ms. Lynde's credibility?

Ms. Lynde's first allegation is the ALJ erred when finding her complaints of pain were not credible. "In evaluating a claimant's subjective reports of pain, the ALJ should make a credibility determination taking into account: 1) the claimant's daily activities; 2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain; 3) the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication; 4) precipitating and aggravating factors; and 5) functional restrictions." Choate, 457 F.3d at 871 (citing Wheeler v. Apfel, 224 F.3d 891, 895 (8th Cir. 2000)). The court is to "defer to an ALJ's credibility finding as long as the 'ALJ explicitly discredits a claimant's testimony and gives a good reason for doing so.' " Schultz v. Astrue, 479 F.3d 979, 983 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Hogan v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 958, 962 (8th Cir. 2001)).

After reviewing the factors to be considered, the ALJ noted Ms. Lynde alleged she had gained weight due to her disability as she was no longer able to live the active lifestyle she had prior to the onset of symptoms. (AR 26). The ALJ then pointed out between October of 2001 and February of 2003 Ms. Lynde only gained 14 pounds. Id. The ALJ concluded this change in her weight "does not appear to support her claim." Id. The court fails to see how a 14-pound ...


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