Williams v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER dismissing pltf's complt and denying all requested relief. Judgment will be entered for the Commissioner. Signed by Magistrate Judge H. David Young on 4/4/2012. (lej)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CHRISTOPHER S. WILLIAMS
NO. 1:11CV00063 HDY
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of the Social
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
BACKGROUND. Plaintiff Christopher S. Williams (“Williams”) commenced the
administrative portion of this case in November of 2007 by filing an application for
disability insurance benefits pursuant to the provisions of the Social Security Act (“Act”).
His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which he requested,
and received, a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ
issued a decision adverse to Williams in May of 2010, and he appealed. The Appeals
Council denied his request for review, thereby causing the ALJ’s decision to become the
(“Commissioner”). Williams then commenced the judicial portion of this case in July of
2011 by filing a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In the complaint, he challenged
the Commissioner’s final decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW. The sole inquiry for the Court is to determine whether the
ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. It requires
the Court to consider the weight of the evidence in the record and apply a balancing test
to evidence which is contrary. See Heino v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 873 (8th Cir. 2009).
THE ALJ’S FINDINGS. The ALJ made findings pursuant to the five step sequential
evaluation process. At step one, he found that Williams has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since September 1, 2007, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ
found that Williams has the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, status-post old pelvis fracture (1994), obesity, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse.” See Transcript at 12. At step
three, the ALJ found that Williams does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments listed in, or equal to one listed in, the governing regulations. The ALJ then
assessed Williams’ residual functional capacity and found that he is capable of
performing light work, “except that [he] requires a sit/stand option and is limited to jobs
requiring only incidental contact with the public.” See Transcript at 14. At step four, the
ALJ found that Williams is unable to perform his past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ
found that considering Williams’ residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
experience in conjunction with the testimony of vocational expert, jobs exist in
significant numbers that he can perform. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Williams
has not been under a disability as defined by the Act from the alleged onset date through
the date of the ALJ’s decision.
WILLIAMS’ ASSERTIONS OF ERROR. Are the ALJ’s findings supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole? Williams thinks not and advances the following two
reasons why: 1) his residual functional capacity was not properly assessed, and 2) the ALJ
erred at step five.
WILLIAMS’ RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY. Williams first maintains that his
residual functional capacity was not properly assessed. He maintains that the opinions
of his treating physician, Dr. Lackey Moody (“Moody”), were improperly discounted.
Residual functional capacity is simply an assessment of “the most [the claimant]
can do despite [his] limitations.” See Brown v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 535, 538-39 (8th Cir.
2004). The assessment is made using all of the relevant evidence in the record and must
be supported by “medical evidence that addresses the claimant’s ability to function in
the workplace.” See Id. at 539. The ALJ is obligated to consider the opinions of treating
physicians and give them controlling weight if they are “well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and are not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence. See Choate v. Barnhart, 457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006)
(internal quotations omitted).
The ALJ found that Williams is capable of performing light work, except that he
requires a sit/stand option and is limited to jobs requiring only incidental contact with
the public. In so finding, the ALJ considered, inter alia, Moody’s opinions in a May 15,
2008, medical source statement, see Transcript at 421-424, and in a February 24, 2010,
letter, see Transcript at 430. As to those opinions, the ALJ found the following:
I have considered the medical source statement dated May 15, 2008
by Lackey Moody, M.D., the claimant’s treating physician, in which Dr.
Moody opined that the claimant was able to lift less than 10 pounds
frequently and 10 pounds occasionally and stand and/or walk less than two
hours total in an eight-hour workday. In addition, Dr. Moody was of the
opinion that the claimant could sit less than six hours total in an eight-hour
workday. In addition, he was limited in his abilities to push and pull with
his upper and lower extremities. Dr. Moody was also of the opinion that the
claimant could never climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds,
kneel, crouch, crawl, or stoop but that he could do occasional reaching,
handling, fingering, and feeling but that he had no limitation on seeing,
hearing, and speaking (Exhibit 8-F). I give Dr. Moody’s evaluation little
weight, since it is conclusory and not supported by objective medical
findings. Although he mentions medical records, x-rays, and a specialist
evaluation that allegedly support his conclusions, he does not spell out any
specific findings contained in these reports. Although his earlier progress
note pointed out that the claimant had low back pain, a fractured pelvis,
residuals from a motor vehicle accident in 1994, and chronic pain syndrome
(Exhibit 6-F, p. 14), there are no objective findings, such as neurological
findings, that would support the above limitations. In fact, Dr. Moody noted
that the claimant’s neurological examination was normal (Exhibit 6-F, p.
I have also considered Dr. Moody’s February 24, 2010 letter in which
he opined that the claimant’s diagnosis and current medication schedule
made it impossible for him to be gainfully employed (Exhibit 11-F, p.1). I
also give Dr. Moody’s opinion in this letter little weight because it is brief,
conclusory, and unsupported by objective medical evidence (Exhibit 11-F,
p.1). Although Dr. Moody mentions diagnoses consisting of post-traumatic
stress disorder with traumatic brain injury, L5-S1 radiculopathy, bulging
nucleus pulposus, degenerative joint disease of both hips and knees, and
a history of alcohol abuse, his letter contains no specific objective medical
findings to support his conclusion. Although Dr. Moody attached his
February 19, 2010 office notes, these notes show a negative straight-leg
raising test; normal sensory, reflect, and motor functions; and a normal
neurological examination despite his diagnosis of L5-S1 radiculopathy
(Exhibit 11-F, p.3).
See Transcript at 16.
Substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s assessment of
William’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ properly considered all of the relevant
evidence in the record, both medical and non-medical, and incorporated the restrictions
arising from Williams’ credible impairments and credible subjective complaints into the
assessment of his residual functional capacity. The ALJ considered but could and did
properly discount the opinions offered by Moody in his May 15, 2008, medical source
statement and in his February 24, 2010, letter.
The record reflects that Moody began seeing Williams in November of 2007 for
injuries he sustained in an automobile accident. The Commissioner maintains that Moody
treated Williams “conservatively for right shoulder and back pain with medication and
physical therapy,” see Document 20 at 5, an assertion the record supports, see Document
404-419. By January of 2008, William reported that although he continued to experience
pain in his shoulder and back, physical therapy was helping. See Transcript at 411. When
physical therapy was discontinued later that month, Angela Reed (“Reed”), a physical
therapist, noted the following:
Physical Therapy Comments: [Williams] has reached the maximal
level of function and benefit of therapy.
Additional Comments: [Williams] has progressed well with decreased
pain and spasm and improved mobility and strength of CT back. He
understands and demonstrates his HEP well and I have encouraged him to
See Transcript 419. Four months later, Moody prepared a medical source statement in
which he opined that Williams is quite restricted in his ability to perform work-related
activities. See Transcript at 421-424.1 Moody noted that his opinions were supported by
“medical records, x-rays, [and] [a] specialist evaluation.” See Transcript at 422.
The ALJ could and did properly discount Moody’s opinions in the medical source
statement. They are indeed conclusory and supported by no objective medical findings.
Although he cited medical records, x-rays, and a specialist evaluation as supporting his
opinions, he failed to specifically identify the records, reports, and specialist evaluation
supporting his opinions. Williams has not identified any such record, report, or
evaluation. Moreover, Moody’s opinions are inconsistent with his own notes and those
made by Reed. Their notes reflect that Williams’ condition improved over time with
medication and physical therapy, and the notes make no mention of a severe restriction
in his ability to perform work-related activities.
The Commissioner maintains that “[t]here is no record of [Williams] seeking any
further medical treatment until twenty months later ...,” see Document 20 at 5, an
assertion the record supports. It was not until September of 2009 that he sought
treatment from another medical provider for pain in his hips and knees and for symptoms
related to post-traumatic stress disorder. See Transcript at 433-438.
Moody opined, inter alia, that Williams can occasionally lift or carry ten pounds; can frequently lift
or carry less than ten pounds; can stand and/or walk less than two hours in an eight hour workday; can sit
less than six hours in an eight hour workday; can never climb, kneel, crouch, crawl, and stoop; and can
occasionally reach in all directions, handle, finger, and feel.
Moody did not see Williams again until February of 2010 when he presented
complaining of pain in his back, hips, and knees. See Transcript at 431-432. Moody’s
specific findings are largely unremarkable as he found, inter alia, that Williams’ motor
functions were normal. On the heels of Williams’ visit, Moody authored a letter in which
he made the following representations:
... [Williams] was examined in my office on February 19, 2010. [He] suffers
from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Traumatic Brain Injury, L5 S1
Radiculopathy, Bulging Nucleus Pulposis, Degenerative Joint Disease both
hips and knees, history of Alcohol Abuse. ... [His] diagnosis and current
medication schedule makes it impossible for him to be gainfully employed.
[Williams’] current lab and x-rays are at the VA. I have enclosed a copy of
[his] February 19, 2010 office notes.
See Transcript at 430.
The ALJ could and did properly discount Moody’s opinions in his February 24, 2010,
letter. They too are conclusory and supported by no objective medical findings. Although
he mentions lab reports and x-rays, he failed to specifically identify the reports and xrays supporting his opinions. Williams has not identified any such report or x-ray. Moody’s
opinions are also inconsistent with his earlier notes and those made by Reed. In addition,
Moody offered his February of 2010 opinion of Williams after only one examination and
after not seeing him for approximately twenty months. Last, the ultimate question of
whether a claimant can work is for the ALJ, not a medical provider. See Qualls v. Apfel,
158 F.3d 425 (8th Cir. 1998).
The opinion of a treating physician cannot, and should not, be disregarded lightly
because he has a “longitudinal picture of [the] impairment.” See Strongson v. Barnhart,
361 F.3d 1066, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004). In this instance, however, substantial evidence on the
record as a whole supports the ALJ’s treatment of Moody’s opinions, that is, the ALJ
could and did properly discount them.
STEP FIVE. Williams next maintains that the ALJ erred at step five. Williams’
assertion of error is as follows: 1) the ALJ assessed Williams’ residual functional capacity
and found that he is limited to, inter alia, jobs requiring only incidental contact with the
public; 2) the ALJ posed a question to the vocational expert in which the ALJ identified
a hypothetical individual with Williams’ residual functional capacity and inquired into
whether there are jobs the hypothetical individual can perform; 3) the vocational expert
testified that the hypothetical individual can perform the jobs of cashier II and order
clerk; but 4) the vocational expert’s testimony was inconsistent with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) and Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the
Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“SCO”) as they provide that the jobs require
“frequent, purposeful contact with the public.” See Document 19 at 7.
The DOT contains generic job descriptions that offer “the approximate maximum
requirements for each position, rather than their range.” See Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d
1040, 1045 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation omitted). When vocational expert testimony
conflicts with the DOT, though, the DOT controls unless rebutted. See Jones v. Astrue,
619 F.3d 963 (8th Cir. 2010).
The ALJ indeed found that Williams is limited to, inter alia, jobs requiring only
incidental contact with the public. The vocational expert testified that a hypothetical
individual with Williams’ residual functional capacity can perform the jobs of cashier II,
DOT number 211.462-010, and order clerk, DOT number 209.567-014. The ALJ found that
pursuant to Social Security Ruling 00-4p, the vocational expert’s testimony was
“consistent with the information contained in the [DOT],” see Transcript at 20, and
concluded that there are jobs Williams can perform.
Substantial evidence on the record as a whole supports the ALJ’s finding at step
five. The ALJ could and did properly find that Williams is limited to, inter alia, jobs
requiring only incidental contact with the public. The vocational expert’s testimony goes
to the quantity or frequency of contact the hypothetical individual can have with the
public. The SCO pertaining to cashier II provides that it requires, in part, “dealing
tactfully and courteously with [the] public,” see SCO, Part A, 07.03 Financial Detail, page
333, and the SCO pertaining to order clerk provides that it requires, in part, “being
tactful and courteous when receiving callers or interviewing people,” see SCO, Part A,
07.04 Oral Communication, page 335. The aforementioned requirements go to the quality
or character of contact the jobs require; they say nothing about the quantity or
frequency of contact the hypothetical individual can have with the public. The vocational
expert did not testify to the former; he only testified regarding the latter. Consequently,
Williams has not demonstrated that there is a conflict between the vocational expert’s
testimony and the DOT.
CONCLUSION. There is substantial evidence on the record as a whole to support
the ALJ’s findings. Accordingly, Williams’ complaint is dismissed, all requested relief is
denied, and judgment will be entered for the Commissioner.
IT IS SO ORDERED this
day of April, 2012.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?