Ruth v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the final determination of the Commissioner; and dismissing 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 1/29/2015. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
SHAWN G. RUTH,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Shawn Ruth, appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying his claims for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act and for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act. For reasons
set out below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On June 27, 2011, Mr. Ruth protectively filed for benefits due to his bad back, crushed
vertebra, degenerative disc disease, depression, and memory loss. (Tr. 188) His claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. At Mr. Ruth’s request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
held a hearing on February 8, 2013, where Mr. Ruth appeared with his lawyer. At the hearing, the
ALJ heard testimony from Mr. Ruth and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 34-79)
The ALJ issued a decision on April 5, 2013, finding that Mr. Ruth was not disabled under
the Act. (Tr. 11-28) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Ruth’s request for review, making the ALJ’s
decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Mr. Ruth, who was fifty years old at the time of the hearing, has a GED and past relevant
work experience as a driver (dump truck, concrete, over-the-road, delivery), fork lift operator, and
front-end-loader operator. (Tr. 41, 43, 69)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Ruth had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 20,
2008, and had the following severe impairments: lumbar and cervical degenerative disc disease,
obesity, and mood disorder. (Tr. 13) However, the ALJ found that Mr. Ruth did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.2 (Tr. 15)
According to the ALJ, Mr. Ruth has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do light work,
but he can only occasionally use bilateral upper extremity to push or pull and is limited to work that
is simple, routine, repetitive, and tasks where interpersonal contact is only incidental to work
performed. Supervision is simple, direct, and concrete. (Tr. 18) The VE testified that jobs available
with these limitations were office helper and poultry deboner. (Tr. 71) Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Ruth could perform a significant number of other jobs existing in the national
economy, and found he was not disabled.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this Court must determine whether there is
The ALJ followed the required sequential analysis to determine: (1) whether the claimant
was engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant had a severe impairment;
(3) if so, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) met or equaled a listed
impairment; and (4) if not, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) prevented the
claimant from performing past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the impairment (or combination
of impairments) prevented the claimant from performing any other jobs available in significant
numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)-(g) and 404.1520(a)-(g).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926.
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision.3 Substantial evidence is “less
than a preponderance, but sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the decision.”4
In reviewing the record as a whole, the Court must consider both evidence that detracts from
the Commissioner’s decision and evidence that supports the decision; but, the decision cannot be
reversed “simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.”5
Mr. Ruth’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Ruth asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, he argues that the ALJ erroneously disregarded the
opinion of Dr. Brownfield, who found that Mr. Ruth would have “severe limitations” in his ability
to lift, push, pull, stoop, and be in prolonged positions. (Doc. No. 13, Tr. 274) At the August 2010
exam, the only findings by Dr. Brownfield that would support these restrictions was regarding some
loss of range of motion in the lumbar spine. (Tr. 272)
An ALJ may disregard a doctors’s opinions when they are inconsistent or other findings are
better supported.6 Here, the ALJ properly noted that Dr. Brownfield found “severe limitations” after
making only “minimal objective findings.” (Tr. 21) For example, Mr. Ruth had negative straight leg
raises, normal range of motion in the cervical spine, and no muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, or
sensory abnormalities. He had normal grip, the ability to squat or arise from a squatting position, and
could walk on his heels and toes. (Tr. 272-274) Further supporting the ALJ’s decision to minimize
Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Id. (citing Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)).
Id. (citing Pelkey v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Anderson v. Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted) (holding that an
“ALJ may discount or even disregard the opinions of a treating physician, where other medical
assessments are supported by better or more thorough medical evidence, or where a treating
physician renders inconsistent opinions that undermine the credibility of such opinions.”).
Dr. Brownfield’s findings is a September 2010 x-ray that showed a “normal lumbar spine.” (Tr. 276)
Additionally, the ALJ noted that Mr. Ruth was taking only ibuprofen for his pain and had not seen
a doctor for his impairments in a couple of years. (Tr. 19, 50) According to the United States Court
of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, “[t]he absence of prescription medicine and the failure to seek
medical treatment for such a long time during a claimed period of disability tends to indicate tolerable
pain.”7 Finally, the ALJ properly included only the limitations that were supported by the medical
records, i.e., he limited Mr. Ruth to light work with only occasional bilateral pushing and pulling.
While there may be evidence that Mr. Ruth has limitations related to his impairments, the
ALJ’s finding that he could perform sedentary work is supported by the record.8 “While pain may
be disabling if it precludes a claimant from engaging in any form of substantial gainful activity, the
mere fact that working may cause pain or discomfort does not mandate a finding of disability.”9
The Court has reviewed the entire record, including the briefs, the ALJ’s decision, the
transcript of the hearing, and the medical and other evidence. There is sufficient evidence in the
record as a whole to support the Commissioner’s decision.
THEREFORE, the Court affirms the final determination of the Commissioner and dismisses
Plaintiff’s Complaint with prejudice.
Bentley v. Shalala, 52 F.3d 784, 787 (8th Cir. 1995).
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962 (8th Cir. 2001) (“We may not reverse merely because
substantial evidence also exists that would support a contrary outcome, or because we would have
decided the case differently.”).
Jones v. Chater, 86 F.3d 823, 826 (8th Cir. 1996).
IT IS SO ORDERED this 29th day of January, 2015.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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