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Bear v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division

September 4, 2015

WILLA M. QUICK BEAR, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

Page 1164

          For Willa M. Quick Bear, Plaintiff: Michael J. Simpson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Julius & Simpson, L.L.P., Rapid City, SD.

         For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Comm'r of Social Security, Defendant: Cheryl Schrempp Dupris, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Pierre Office, Pierre, SD.

         For Office of General Counsel Social Security Administration, Interested Party: Office of General Counsel - Denver, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Denver, CO.

         ORDER

Page 1165

         JEFFREY L. VIKEN, CHIEF JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Willa Quick Bear filed a complaint appealing from an administrative law judge's (" ALJ" ) decision denying disability benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant[1] denies plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 9). The court issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material facts (" JSMF" ). (Docket 11). The parties filed their JSMF. (Docket 15). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 17) is granted.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The parties' JSMF (Docket 15) is incorporated by reference. Further recitation of salient facts is included in the discussion section of this order.

         On May 13, 2009, Ms. Quick Bear applied for Social Security disability and supplemental security income benefits alleging a disability date of January 6, 2009. Id. ¶ 1. An evidentiary hearing was held on July 6, 2011, before an ALJ. Id. ¶ 2. On July 18, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Quick Bear was not disabled and denying benefits. Id. ¶ 3; see also Administrative Record, pp. 15-24.[2] Ms. Quick Bear sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied the request. (Docket 15 ¶ 3). The ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Ms. Quick Bear timely filed a complaint requesting judicial review. (Docket 1).

         The issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision that Ms. Quick Bear was not " under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, from January 16, 2009, through [July 18, 2011]" is supported by the substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p. 15); see also Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir. 2001) (" By statute, the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security

Page 1166

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 decision of the Commissioner 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)).

         DISCUSSION

         The Social Security Administration established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. 20 CFR § § 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a). If the ALJ determines a claimant is not disabled at any step of the process, the evaluation does not proceed to the next step as the claimant is not disabled. Id. The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation required by the Social Security Administration regulations. (AR at pp. 18-24).

         Ms. Quick Bear challenges the ALJ's decision on two grounds. Those are:

1. Did the ALJ properly determine Ms. Quick Bear's credibility?
2. Did the ALJ properly consider the opinions of a treating physician?

(Docket 17). Each of these issues will be separately addressed.

         1. DID THE ALJ PROPERLY DETERMINE MS. QUICK BEAR'S CREDIBILITY?

         At step two of the evaluation process the ALJ found Ms. Quick Bear had the following severe impairments: " Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, Diabetes Mellitus, and Obesity . . . ." (AR at p. 18). It is undisputed Ms. Quick Bear suffered " very extensive degenerative disease primarily around the L5-SI [and] L4-L5 range with spurring of lateral vertebrae throughout L2-3-4 and L5 disk space narrowing and some bridging is noted quite extensively throughout the lumbosacral vertebrae." (Docket 15 ¶ 54). The ALJ noted this portion of the medical record. " X-rays of the lumbar spine showed several levels of degenerative disc disease." [3]

Page 1167

(AR at p. 20). There is no mention of the impact of this severe impairment throughout the remainder of the ALJ's decision.

         Concerning Ms. Quick Bear's diabetes, the ALJ made the following findings:

The claimant's diabetes has been poorly controlled . . . . She had not been compliant with her diet and medication. (AR at p. 20);
[T]he claimant acknowledged that she is still eating lots of fried foods . . . She had not been adhering to the low fat diabetic diet. . . . She admitted to being challenged in trying to eat correctly. Id. at p. 21;
[T]he claimant was not reliably doing accucheks . . . . She stated that her meals were frequently eaten away from her home. She is noncompliant lately. . . . She gets treatment for diabetes but complained that the health care on the reservation is poor. Id. at p. 22; and
The claimant has poor compliance with taking care of her diabetes, monitoring her blood sugars, taking her medications, and properly eating. Many of her symptoms would be eliminated if she would follow medical instructions. Id. at p. 23.

         Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded " the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible . . . ." Id. at p. 22. Ms. Quick Bear challenges these conclusions arguing " the ALJ rejected [Ms. Quick Bear's] complaints of disabling fatigue, pain, and blurry vision almost exclusively due to his belief that she consciously disregarded doctor's orders and if she had taken better care of herself, she would be able to work." (Docket 17 at p. 2).

         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)). In order to evaluate whether the ALJ's credibility finding is supported by the record, the court must lay out the record as it relates to Ms. Quick Bear's diabetes in chronological detail.

         Ms. Quick Bear was seen at the Kyle Clinic nine times in 2008 for treatment of diabetes as well as stomach problems, high blood pressure, and neck, knee and leg pain.[4] (Docket 15 ¶ 4). On May 13, 2009, she was seen again primarily for diabetes and was diagnosed as " insulin dependent DM but poor control." Id. ¶ 5. On June 5, 2009, Ms. Quick Bear was seen at the Indian Health Service (" IHS" ) Hospital emergency room in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, requesting refills of her insulin and complaining of blurred vision. Id. ¶ 6. She was next seen on June 26, 2009, for her diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and GERD[5] and it was noted she had been checking her blood sugars and they were between 115 and 180. Id. ¶ 7.

         On July 23, 2009, Ms. Quick Bear was seen by Dr. Qualm for an annual diabetic eye exam. Id. ΒΆ 8. She did not have any visual complaints and was taking insulin, Lisinopril for blood pressure control and to protect kidneys, Metformin for blood sugar control, Naproxen for pain, Pioglitazone for blood sugar control, ...


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