Taylor v. Social Security Administration
ORDER approving and adopting 13 Recommended Disposition in its entirety as this Court's findings in all respects; affirming the decision of the Commissioner; denying Mr. Taylor's request for relief; and dismissing this case with prejudice. Judgment shall be entered accordingly. Signed by Judge Kristine G. Baker on 09/29/2015. (rhm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Case No. 1:14-cv-00088-KGB/JVV
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
The Court has reviewed the Recommended Disposition received from Magistrate Judge Joe
J. Volpe (Dkt. No. 13). After careful review of the Recommended Disposition, and the timely
objections received thereto (Dkt. No. 14), as well as a de novo review of the record, the Court
concludes that the Recommended Disposition should be, and hereby is, approved and adopted in its
entirety as this Court’s findings in all respects.
The Court writes separately to address plaintiff Robert Taylor’s objections (Dkt. No. 14).
Mr. Taylor asserts that there is not substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the
Commissioner’s decision to deny Mr. Taylor Social Security Income benefits when the hypothetical
posed by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to the vocational expert (“VE”) omitted any
reference to Mr. Taylor’s extreme obesity. Specifically, Mr. Taylor contends that Judge Volpe
incorrectly concluded that the ALJ’s hypothetical question to the VE captured the concrete
consequences of Mr. Taylor’s physical limitations and restrictions.
In considering Mr. Taylor’s objections, the Court notes that its “standard of review is
narrow.” Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001). The Court “must determine
whether the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.”
Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 862–63 (8th Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the
Commissioner’s conclusion.” Id. To determine whether the evidence is substantial, courts “consider
evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s decision as well as evidence that supports it.” Id.
“If, after reviewing the record, the court finds that it is possible to draw two inconsistent positions
from the evidence and one of those positions represents the Commissioner’s findings, the court must
affirm the Commissioner’s decision. Even if we would have weighed the evidence differently, we
must affirm the denial of benefits if there is enough evidence to support the other side.” Pearsall,
274 F.3d at 1217.
Mr. Taylor argues that Judge Volpe erred in concluding that, because the hypothetical
question captured the concrete consequences of obesity, the Eighth Circuit’s decision in Morrison
v. Apfel, 146 F.3d 625 (8th Cir. 1998), does not require reversal of the Commissioner’s decision.
When an ALJ poses a hypothetical question to a vocational expert to determine the availability of
other work, the ALJ must precisely set out all of the claimant’s impairments. Morrison, 146 F.3d
at 628. Specifically, in regard to obesity, although obesity was listed as an impairment in the 1997
version of the Listing of Impairments, the Commissioner deleted the obesity listing in 1999 and
modified other listings and agency policy to ensure that, despite its removal as a listing, the effects
of obesity are considered in determining whether claimants are disabled. Here, the ALJ correctly
addressed obesity at step three of the disability-determination process (Dkt. No. 9, Tr. at 13–14).
Further, based on this Court’s de novo review of the record as a whole, the hypothetical
question posed by the ALJ to the VE adequately addressed the effects of obesity in this case based
on the record evidence. Put another way, the hypothetical did not omit any reference to obesity as
Mr. Taylor contends. During the hearing on Mr. Taylor’s claim, the following colloquy occurred:
ALJ: Assume there’s an individual as the same age and education and work
experience as the claimant. Considering the impairments and also
considering mild to moderate pain and obesity, the individual would have the
ability to perform work within the full range of the light classification
exertionally with the individual avoiding work around excessive chemicals
and noise, humidity, dust, fumes, temperature extremes, vibrations, gases, or
other pulmonary irritants. Based on a diagnosis of anxiety, further assume I
find the individual to have the ability to perform work in a setting where
interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed. The complexity of
the tasks is learned and performed by rote with few variables, little judgment,
and the supervision required is simply, direct, and concrete. Could this
individual perform any of the claimant’s past relevant work?
VE: No, sir.
ALJ: Could this individual perform any other jobs that exist in the local, regional, or
VE: Yes, sir.
(Dkt. No. 9, Tr. at 41) (emphasis added). Since Morrison, the Eighth Circuit has affirmed that the
hypothetical question posed to the VE need not explicitly use the word obesity as long as the ALJ
adequately describes the claimant’s physical limitations and restrictions. See, e.g., Robson v. Astrue,
526 F.3d 389 (8th Cir. 2008); Thompson v. Astrue, 226 F. App’x. 617, 620 (8th Cir. 2007)
(unpublished). Here, the ALJ not only included the term obesity in the hypothetical but also
adequately described Mr. Taylor’s physical limitations and restrictions.
The Court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision is supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole. It is therefore ordered that the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed, Mr.
Taylor’s request for relief is denied, and this case is dismissed with prejudice. Judgment shall be
SO ORDERED this 29th day of September, 2015.
KRISTINE G. BAKER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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