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ALJ properly denied disability benefits

An administrative law judge, or ALJ, considering a claim for disability insurance benefits did not err in giving “little weight” to the opinions of the claimant’s medical providers because they were not supported by the record. Giving “significant weight” to the state agency’s assessments that were consistent with the medical record as a whole was proper.


Sharon D. Funk filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, denying her claim for disability insurance benefits. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment.


Funk argues the ALJ erred by improperly determining her residual functional capacity by rejecting the opinions of her treating nurse practitioner, Whitney B. Mays, and her treating physician, Dr. Maurice E. Nida, and by giving controlling weight to the opinions of the state agency psychologists.

The ALJ gave “little weight” to Dr. Nida’s and Mays’s mental assessments because they were not supported by the medical record. The record shows that Funk consistently had normal mental status examination findings. In fact, Funk denied depressive symptoms and stated she could effectively cope with stress because medication helped her symptoms of anxiety.

The ALJ gave “significant weight” to the state agency physicians’ assessments, who, after reviewing the medical evidence, opined Funk could perform light work with occasional postural activities, except she could frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance and kneel. The ALJ also gave the state agency psychologists’ assessments “significant weight” because they were consistent with the medical record as a whole.

Funk argues that the ALJ should have given the state agency consultants’ assessments less weight because they were “stale [and] outdated,” because they did not have the benefit of reviewing the updated records and opinions from her treating providers. However, the simple fact that those opinions came later in time than the state agency opinions does not mean that they should be accorded greater weight.

It is apparent from the ALJ’s very thorough decision that he carefully evaluated the whole record before him when weighing the opinion evidence, and he ultimately found the state agency medical opinions were consistent with the record as a whole. Here, the opinions of the state agency consultants that Funk could perform a limited range of light work were consistent with the evidence of record. Based on this, the court finds that substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ’s weighing of the medical evidence and his finding that, through the date last insured, Funk had the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work.

The undersigned recommends that the court deny Funk’s motion for summary judgment, grant the commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and affirm the commissioner’s decision denying benefits.

Report and recommendation issued.

Funk v. Kijakazi, Case No. 2:20-cv-00038, Jan. 24, 2022. WDVA at Big Stone Gap (Sargent). VLW 022-3-028. 20 pp.

VLW 022-3-028

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