Stovall 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 10/15/2014. (srw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner, Social Security
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Ray Stovall, appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and for supplemental security income (“SSI”)
benefits under Title XVI of the Act. For reasons set out below, the decision of the Commissioner
On November 22, 2011, Mr. Stovall protectively filed for DIB and SSI benefits due to pain
in the knees and wrists, right ear hearing loss, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 160) His claims were
denied initially and upon reconsideration. At Mr. Stovall’s request, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on October 24, 2012, where Mr. Stovall appeared with his lawyer. At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Mr. Stovall and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 34-73)
The ALJ issued a decision on April 26, 2013, finding that Mr. Stovall was not disabled under
the Act. (Tr. 12-29) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Stovall’s request for review, making the
ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Mr. Stovall, who was fifty-two years old at the time of the hearing, has a high school
education and past relevant work experience as a tree trimmer, personal care attendant, and potato
picker. (Tr. 40, 42, 62)
DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE1
The ALJ found that Mr. Stovall had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
January 9, 2009, and he had the following severe impairments: mood disorder, alcohol dependence,
cocaine dependence, and osteoarthritis of the knees. (Tr. 14) However, the ALJ found that Mr.
Stovall 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. Stovall has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do medium
work, except he is limited to routine and repetitive tasks and is not able to perform at a production
pace, but can perform goal-oriented work. (Tr. 17) The VE testified that Mr. Stovall could perform
his past relevant work as a personal care attendant, and that other jobs available with these
limitations were dishwasher, kitchen helper, and janitor. (Tr. 64, 65) Accordingly, the ALJ
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.
determined that Mr. Stovall could perform a significant number of other jobs existing in the national
economy, and found that he was not disabled.
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.3 Substantial evidence is “less
than a preponderance, but sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the
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. Stovall’s Arguments for Reversal
Mr. Stovall asserts that the Commissioner’s decision should be reversed because it is not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Mr. Stovall contends that the ALJ erred (1) by
finding his carpal tunnel syndrome non-severe; (2) in the RFC finding; and (3) by finding he did not
require a cane. (Doc. No. 11)
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Mr. Stovall argues that the ALJ erred by finding his carpal tunnel syndrome non-severe. He
concedes the carpal tunnel “has been deemed mild” but points out that he has been prescribed wrist
splints and medication. (Id.) Notably, the splints were prescribed to be worn only at “night time to
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)).
keep wrists in neutral position.” (Tr. 951) Additionally, a November 2012 MRI revealed only
“minor degenerative changes.” (Tr. 978) And again in January 2013, he was diagnosed with only
“mild” carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 1003) Though Mr. Stovall claimed he was a candidate for
surgery, he testified he did not want surgery for his carpal tunnel. (Tr. 44-45) “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.”6
Here, substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s conclusion that Mr. Stovall’s carpal tunnel syndrome
was not a severe impairment.7
Mr. Stovall contends he is unable to perform medium work. Yet, there is substantial
evidence to support the ALJ’s finding. For example, Mr. Stovall testified that he can walk a mile
before needing a rest. (Tr. 51) He also reported that he can stand for one to two hours and sit one
hour before needing a break. (Tr. 178) Additionally, Mr. Stovall told his doctor that his knee braces
helped, when he actually used them. (Tr. 445) The facts that the knee braces help and Mr. Stovall
does not follow his doctor’s treatment recommendations weigh against the credibility of the severity
of his impairments.8 Mr. Stovall’s activities of daily living also support the ALJ’s RFC finding.9
Jones v. Chater, 86 F.3d 823, 826 (8th Cir. 1996).
Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707-08 (8th Cir. 2007) (holding it is claimant’s burden to
establish that impairment is severe; if impairment has no more than minimal effect on claimant’s
ability to work, it does not qualify as severe.)
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.”); Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d
798, 802 (8th Cir.2005) (“A failure to follow a recommended course of treatment . . . weighs against
a claimant’s credibility.”).
Clark v. Chater, 75 F.3d 414, 417 (8th Cir. 1996) (An ALJ weighs the credibility of a
claimant’s subjective complaints of pain by considering multiple factors, including daily activities,
and may discredit complaints if they are “inconsistent with the evidence as a whole.”).
He does laundry, irons, cooks, shops an hour and a half at a time, goes fishing for stress relief, and
has no issues with his personal care. (Tr. 54, 194, 196, 197, 1002)
Also worth noting is the fact that Mr. Stovall reported in January 2013 that he was “applying
for some work” but had not yet found any. (Tr. 1015) Additionally, he has held several jobs since
his alleged on-set date. (Tr. 439, 466, 565) The fact that Mr. Stovall continued to work after his
alleged onset date belies his claim that he is disabled.10 Furthermore, these jobs all appear to be at
an RFC level consistent with that set out by the ALJ -- janitor, gardener/landscape, maintenance for
a church, and demolition/remodeling work.
Mr. Stovall asserts that the ALJ erred in finding that he no longer needed to use a cane. Mr.
Stovall testified that a cane was prescribed to him in 2009 and after two falls, he was again
prescribed a cane March 2012. (Tr. 46, 913) However, as the ALJ noted, during numerous doctor
visits in 2011, 2012, and 2013, Mr. Stovall did not use a cane and was independently mobile. (Tr.
955, 963, 964, 969, 1001, 1012, 1035, 1040) Since several of these visits were after Mr. Stovall’s
2012 cane prescription, there was substantial evidence for the ALJ to conclude that a cane was no
longer required or that the impairments were not as severe as alleged.
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.
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 792 (8th Cir. 2005) (“Working generally demonstrates an
ability to perform a substantial gainful activity.”).
THEREFORE, the Court hereby affirms the final determination of the Commissioner and
dismisses Plaintiff’s Complaint with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 15th day of October, 2014.
JOE J. VOLPE
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?