United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
WILLA M. QUICK BEAR, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant
Willa M. Quick Bear, Plaintiff: Michael J. Simpson, LEAD
ATTORNEY, Julius & Simpson, L.L.P., Rapid City, SD.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Comm'r of Social Security,
Defendant: Cheryl Schrempp Dupris, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S.
Attorney's Office, Pierre Office, Pierre, SD.
Office of General Counsel Social Security Administration,
Interested Party: Office of General Counsel - Denver, LEAD
ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Denver, CO.
L. VIKEN, CHIEF JUDGE.
Willa Quick Bear filed a complaint appealing from an
administrative law judge's (" ALJ" ) decision
denying disability benefits. (Docket 1).
Defendant 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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 15) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of salient facts is included in the
discussion section of this order.
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. 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).
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
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)).
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).
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
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).
Quick Bear challenges the ALJ's decision on two grounds.
1. Did the ALJ properly determine Ms. Quick Bear's
2. Did the ALJ properly consider the opinions of a treating
(Docket 17). Each of these issues will be separately
DID THE ALJ PROPERLY DETERMINE MS. QUICK BEAR'S
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." 
(AR at p. 20). There is no mention of the impact of this
severe impairment throughout the remainder of the ALJ's
Ms. Quick Bear's diabetes, the ALJ made the following
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.
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).
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.
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. (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 and it was noted she had been checking
her blood sugars and they were between 115 and 180.
Id. ¶ 7.
23, 2009, Ms. Quick Bear was seen by Dr. Qualm for an annual
diabetic eye exam. Id. ¶ 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, ...