United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
NICHOLE W. STEINBACK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Nichole W. Steinback filed a complaint appealing from an administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision denying disability insurance benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 5). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts ("JSMF"). (Docket 8). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 10). The parties also filed a joint statement of disputed facts ("JSDF"). (Docket 11). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 12) is denied and defendant's motion to affirm the ALJ's decision (Docket 14) is granted.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The parties' JSMF (Docket 10) is incorporated by reference. The parties JSDF (Docket 11) will be cited where appropriate. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order.
On December 9, 2008, Ms. Steinback filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") asserting an onset of disability date of December 20, 2000. (Docket 10 at p. 1 ¶ B). Her date of last insured for DIB coverage purposes was December 31, 2005. Id.
On October 10, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Steinback was not disabled. (Administrative Record at pp. 21-30) (hereafter "AR at p. _____"). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Steinback's review request. (Docket 10 at p. 2 ¶ C). The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Id . It is from this decision which Ms. Steinback timely appeals.
The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of October 10, 2010, that Ms. Steinback "was not under a disability... from December 20, 2000, ... through [December 31, 2005]" is supported by the substantial evidence on the record as a whole. (AR at p. 21). See also Howard v. Massanari , 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir. 2001) ("By statute, the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.") (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Commissioner's findings must be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Choate v. Barnhart , 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006); Howard , 255 F.3d at 580. The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if an error of law was committed. 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) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
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 decide the case differently, it cannot reverse the Commissioner's decision if that decision is supported by good reason and is based on substantial evidence. 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 , 399 F.3d at 920 (quoting Shannon v. Chater , 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir. 1995)).
Ms. Steinback challenges the ALJ decision on four grounds. The ALJ improperly:
1. Disregarded the opinions of Dr. Engelbrecht, claimant's treating physician;
2. Discredited Ms. Steinback's subjective complaints;
3. Disregarded the affidavit of Ryan Steinback, claimant's husband; and
4. Applied the burden-shifting rules.
(Docket 13 at pp. 4-5). Each challenge will be addressed separately.
1. THE ALJ IMPROPERLY DISREGARDED THE OPINIONS OF ...