Hoyt v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the finding that Mr. Hoyt was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act; and dismissing the case, with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 10/18/2017. (cmn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
BARRY L. HOYT
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
Plaintiff, Barry L. Hoyt, protectively applied for disability income benefits (“DIB”)
on January 30, 1991, and he applied for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) on
March 25, 2014. (Tr. at 21) In both applications, he alleged an onset date of January 1,
1991. Id. Mr. Hoyt’s claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After
conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (AALJ@) denied Mr. Hoyt’s
application. (Tr. at 33) The Appeals Council denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1) The
ALJ=s decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Hoyt has
requested judicial review.
The Commissioner=s Decision:
The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt’s date last insured was June 30, 2006. (Tr. at 21) He
was first insured for DIB on July 1, 2004. Id. Therefore, to be successful on his DIB
claim, Mr. Hoyt must establish disability between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2006. Id.
The ALJ found insufficient medical evidence to establish disability during that time; thus,
the ALJ proceeded with his analysis based upon the SSI claim. (Tr. at 21, 54) Mr. Hoyt’s
attorney consented to consideration of the SSI claim only. (Tr. at 55).
The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the alleged onset date of January 1, 1991. (Tr. at 23) At Step Two of the five-step
process, the ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had the following severe impairments: organic
mental disorder, personality disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, anxiety
disorder, and major depressive disorder. Id.
After finding that Mr. Hoyt’s impairments did not meet or equal a listed
impairment (Tr. at 25), the ALJ determined that Mr. Hoyt had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to work at all exertional levels, with limitations. (Tr. at 27) He could
understand, remember, and carry out simple work-related tasks; make judgments in
simple work-related situations; respond appropriately to coworkers and/or supervisors
with occasional incidental contact that is not necessary to perform the work; respond
appropriately to minor changes in usual work routine; and have no direct or indirect
contact with the general public. Id.
The ALJ found that Mr. Hoyt had no past relevant work. (Tr. at 31) At Step Five,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find that, based on Mr.
Hoyt’s age, education, work experience and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. at 31-32) Based on that Step Five
determination, the ALJ held that Mr. Hoyt was not disabled. (Tr. at 33)
The Court’s role is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are
supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000).
“Substantial evidence” in this context means “enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the ALJ’s decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir.
2009)(citation omitted). In reviewing the ALJ decision, the Court must consider not only
evidence that supports the decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome.
The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence
exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997)
(quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).
Arguments on Appeal
Mr. Hoyt argues that the RFC finding is not supported by substantial evidence,
and that the ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of consulting examiner Jerry
A claimant’s RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of
all of his credible limitations considering all credible evidence. McCoy v. Astrue, 648
F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining the claimant’s RFC, “the ALJ has a duty to
establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activity that the
claimant can perform in a work setting, after giving appropriate consideration to all of
[his] impairments.” Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996). Here, Mr.
Hoyt contends that the RFC did not account for his mental functional limitations.
The record contains scant evidence of significant mental impairments. At various
appointments with prison doctors over the span of a ten-year confinement, Mr. Hoyt
rarely complained of mental impairments. At one point, he threatened to take all of his
“B/P meds,” (Tr. at 357), but then he said he was feeling better and had no thoughts of
self-harm. (Tr. at 353-360) He was diagnosed with Pedophilia, Borderline Intellectual
Functioning, and Borderline Personality Disorder, but exhibited a good mood,
cooperative attitude, and rational and goal-directed thought process on February 24,
2014. (Tr. at 377). The prison records do not support a finding of disabling mental
Mr. Hoyt sought treatment fewer than 10 times at Dayspring Behavioral Health
(“Dayspring”) in 2014 and 2015. (Tr. at 380-418, 475-490). He had generally normal
mental status examinations, and reported that he liked to draw, help others, and fish. (Tr.
at 479-481). Mr. Hoyt was not always complaint with medications. A failure to follow a
recommended course of treatment weighs against a claimant's credibility. Guilliams v.
Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 802 (8th Cir. 2005). In fact, Mr. Hoyt was discharged from
services at Dayspring for failure to follow through with treatment recommendations.
(Tr. at 404) In spite of non-compliance, he made improvement over this time period. (Tr.
at 425, 477)
The only opinion evidence based on clinical examination comes from state-agency
consultant Jerry Cunningham, Psy.D. The one-time psychiatric examination took place
on July 10, 2015. (Tr. at 439) The report of that indicates that, while Mr. Hoyt appeared
somewhat unkempt at the examination, he was cooperative and gave adequate effort. (Tr.
at 441) He denied suicidal or homicidal ideations. (Tr. at 442) He was oriented to time,
person, place, and situation. Id. He could count backward from 20 with no mistakes; and
he could make calculations with money. (Tr. at 29, 444) He gave his correct address,
social security number, and date of birth. (Tr. at 29)
At the hearing before the ALJ, Mr. Hoyt was able to report the length of his prison
term down to the day. (Tr. at 45) He also reported that he had performed unskilled labor
and played basketball in prison. (Tr. at 29, 335, 343) An ability to work with an
impairment shows that the impairment is not disabling. Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
930 (8th Cir. 2004).
In spite of Mr. Hoyt’s competent performance on the intelligence-testing portion
of the psychiatric exam, Dr. Cunningham opined that Mr. Hoyt would not be able to
perform the mental requirements of competitive employment. (Tr. at 445) Dr.
Cunningham’s own testing, as well as prior normal mental status exams, undermine Dr.
Cunningham’s opinion. See Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2000)(the
ALJ may discount a treating physician’s opinion where he renders inconsistent opinions
that undermine his credibility); Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 803 (8th Cir.
2005)(“physician opinions that are internally inconsistent . . . are entitled to less
deference than they would receive in the absence of inconsistencies.”) Moreover, the
opinion of a consulting physician who examines a claimant once or not at all is not
entitled to special weight. Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 709 (8th Cir. 2007).
The ALJ properly gave Dr. Cunningham’s opinion little weight, considering that
Mr. Hoyt could watch TV, visit with friends, do light cleaning, cook simple meals, and
shop in stores. (Tr. at 25, 244-248) Such daily activities undermine his claims of
disability. Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 487 (8th Cir. 1995); Edwards v. Barnhart,
314 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir. 2003).
While the ALJ gave Dr. Cunningham’s opinion little weight, he ascribed great
weight to the opinion of a non-examining psychological consultant, who opined that Mr.
Hoyt would be limited to unskilled, simple work. (Tr. at 94) This opinion informed the
ALJ’s RFC determination, which appropriately reflected the evidence in the record as a
whole. The ALJ properly considered sparse psychiatric treatment, non-compliance with
treatment, normal mental status exams, activities of daily living, and competence on
mental function exams in finding Mr. Hoyt not disabled.
There is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner=s decision to deny
benefits. The ALJ did not err in his RFC determination; and he gave appropriate weight
to Dr. Cunningham’s opinion. The finding that Mr. Hoyt was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, therefore, must be, and hereby is affirmed. The case
is dismissed, with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 18th day of October, 2017.
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?