Williams v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner; and dismissing 2 Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe on 8/27/2014. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Jennie Williams, appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claims for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). For reasons set out below, the decision
of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On January 21, 2011, Ms. Williams protectively filed for DBI benefits due to problems with
right wrist, arthritis, shoulders, high blood pressure, hands, thyroid, and allergies. (Tr. 147) Her
claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. At Ms. Williams’s request, an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on September 5, 2012, where Ms. Williams appeared with her
lawyer. (Tr. 22) At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Williams, her husband, and a
vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 23-41)
The ALJ issued a decision on September 14, 2012, finding that Ms. Williams was not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 11-17) The Appeals Council denied Ms. Williams’s request for review,
making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-4)
Ms. Williams, who was fifty-one years old at the time of the hearing, has a high school
education. (Tr. 143, 147) She has past relevant work as a short order cook. (Tr. 29)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Ms. Williams had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
July 16, 2009, and she had the following severe impairments: advanced osteoarthritis of both
shoulders (left worse than right) and remote right wrist fracture. (Tr. 13) However, the ALJ found
that Ms. Williams 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. 14)
According to the ALJ, Ms. Williams has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work, except only occasional overhead reaching with the left upper extremity. (Tr. 14) The
VE testified that the jobs available with these limitations were furniture clerk and cashier II. (Tr. 17,
After considering the VE’s testimony, the ALJ determined that Ms. Williams could perform
a significant number of jobs existing in the national economy, and found that Ms. Williams was not
Standard of Review
In reviewing the Commissioner’s decision, this Court must determine whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision. Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d
860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “less than a preponderance,
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. §§ 404.1520(a)-(g).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526.
but sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the decision.” Id. (citing Guilliams
v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)).
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.” Id. (citing Pelkey
v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Ms. Williams’s Arguments for Reversal
Ms. Williams asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
support by substantial evidence. Specifically, Ms. Williams contends that the ALJ (1) made an RFC
finding not supported by the record; (2) erred in the credibility assessment; and (3) relied on faulty
VE testimony. (Doc. No. 12)
Ms. Williams contends that the RFC was in error because it did not consider her right
shoulder or wrist impairments. First, the ALJ’s hypothetical included all limitations he found
credible. An ALJ need not include limitations for impairments that the he did not find credible.3
It was reasonable for the ALJ to not include the wrist impairment, because after surgery, “for the
most part it [was] doing much better. (Tr. 244) As for the right shoulder, she had an injection in
May 2011, and was advised to return to the clinic in three months; but there are no records from
Advanced Orthopedics after that date. (Tr. 288) Presumably, the treatment worked. Even if the ALJ
did include limitations with the right shoulder as well, it doesn’t appear that this limitation would
rule out the furniture clerk job.
Howe v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 835, 842 (8th Cir. 2007) (holding that a hypothetical “need only
include impairments that are supported by the record and that the ALJ accepts as valid”).
Ms. Williams argues the ALJ erred in his credibility assessment. However, there are several
factors that support the ALJ’s finding that Ms. Williams’s impairments are not as severe as alleged.
A few examples follow. First, Ms. Williams’s forms indicated that she could not lift more than a
few pounds, but she testified that she could pour milk from a gallon jug and pick up her rat terrier.
(Tr. 29, 37, 177) Second, she testified that she would not be able to sit at a desk and sort papers with
her hands for longer than fifteen minutes, yet she likes to do crochet, needlepoint, and latch hooking.
(Tr. 39, 182) Third, Ms. Williams testified that she would not be able to stand and walk five or six
hours over the course of an eight hour work day, because her “knee was starting to bother [her]
now.” (Tr. 37) But there are no medical records to support her alleged knee problems. She testified
that she had not yet seen the doctor for this issue because she could not afford to. (Tr. 37) Fourth,
Ms. Williams alleged disabling shoulder pain but she testified that she uses over-the-counter
medication, not prescriptions, to relieve her pain. (Tr. 39) According to pharmacy records, the last
hydrocodone prescription was filled in March 2011.
(Tr. 212) Fifth, Ms. Williams had three
injections on her shoulders, which helped relieve her pain.4 (Tr. 38) In December 2010, left
shoulder pain was worse than the right, but the injection from six months earlier “gave her excellent
relief.” Her symptoms had returned, but “not as bad as before.” Ms. Williams declined an additional
steroid shot at the time. (Tr. 242) In May 19, 2011, three months after a second injection, her left
shoulder pain was “much better.” (Tr. 288) Sixth, there are considerable lapses of time between Ms.
Williams’s treatment for her shoulder conditions.5 In fact, she testified that she can go months
Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 2002) (“An impairment which can be
controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling.”).
Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 967 (8th Cir.2003) (An ALJ may weigh the credibility
of a claimant's subjective complaints of pain by considering multiple factors, including whether or
without having “a bad day.” (Tr. 34) Seventh, the ALJ properly noted that treatment for Ms.
Williams’s impairments was “no more than routine and conservative in nature.”6 (Tr. 16)
Although Ms. Williams’s clearly suffers from some limitation, there was substantial medical
evidence to support the ALJ’s findings. Again, the issue is not whether there was evidence to
support Mr. Williams’s claim of disability, but whether there was substantial evidence to support the
The ALJ proposed a hypothetical question considering light work with only occasional
overhead reaching with the left arm. The VE testified that cashier II was an available job that such
an individual could perform despite the proposed limitations. Ms. Williams argues that the ALJ
erred in relying on the VE’s testimony because cashier II requires reaching, presumably in any
direction. Even assuming that Ms. Williams’s argument has merit, any error is harmless, since the
ALJ also found that Ms. Williams was capable of work as a furniture clerk.
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.
Accordingly, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed and Ms. Williams’s Complaint is
not the claimant seeks regular medical treatment.).
Black v. Apfel, 143 F.3d 383, 386 (8th Cir. 1998) (finding that an ALJ may rely on the fact
that a claimant has undergone only conservative treatment when evaluating the severity of the
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.”).
dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 27th day of August, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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