Godfrey v. Social Security Administration
ORDER reversing the Commissioner's decision & remanding this action as a "sentence four" remand. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 3/1/2012. (jct)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
RANDY LEE GODFREY
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
That Randy Godfrey is disabled is no longer in dispute. On a later
application for benefits, the Social Security Administration determined that
Godfrey became disabled under applicable law on 11 July 2009. Document No.
10, at 15. But the question remains whether Godfrey is entitled to benefits for
the period between 1 February 2007, his alleged onset date, and 11 July 2009.
The Court reverses the Commissioner's decision about the disputed
period and remands for reconsideration. Because the Appeals Council
rejected Godfrey's request for reconsideration, the ALI's decision became the
Commissioner's decision. The ALI's opinion, while measured and thorough,
contains a logical inconsistency. And this inconsistency reveals a legal error
that undercuts the denial of benefits for the disputed period. Nettles v.
Schweiker, 714 F.2d 833,835-36 (8th Cir. 1983) (standard of judicial review); 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (same). The ALJ found that Godfrey's diabetes, hypertension,
contractures of the toes, and obesity all constituted severe impairments"
under the applicable regulations. But then the ALJ relied on the Medical
Vocational Guidelines, without the testimony of a vocational expert, in
finding that these nonexertional impairments did not significantly limit
Godfrey's ability to perform a full range of sedentary work.
In general, when a claimant suffers from nonexertional impairments
that may limit his or her work ability, the ALJ must consider the Guidelines
and testimony from a vocational expert. Reed v. Sullivan, 988 F.2d 812, 816
(8th Cir. 1993). This general rule comes with an exception. Vocational-expert
testimony need not be considered when the record supports the finding that
"the nonexertional impairments do not significantly diminish the claimant's
RFC to perform the full range of activities listed in the guidelines."
(emphasis original). As defined by the regulations and interpreted by the
courts, a " severe impairment" is one that"significantly limit[s] a claimant's
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities[.]" Gwathney v. Chater,
104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c) & 416.920.
Here the ALJ made inconsistent findings: Godfrey had several severe"
impairments that significantly limited his ability to work; but Godfrey's
nonexertional impairments, the ALJ also concluded, did not significantly
diminish his full capacity for sedentary work. Moreover, obesity is one of
Godfrey's undisputed conditions.
Obesity is also a nonexertional
impairment which might significantly restrict a claimant's ability to perform
the full range of sedentary work," thus requiring consideration by a
vocational expert. Lucy v. Chater, 113 F.3d 905, 909 (8th Cir. 1997). In the
circumstances, the ALJ made an error of law by not hearing from a vocational
expert. The ALJ needs that testimony to determine whether Godfrey's severe
impairments diminished his capacity to perform sedentary work.
This Court acknowledges the facts weighing against finding Godfrey
disabled during the relevant period. One of these is his admission to a
consultative examiner: Godfrey said he could have continued working 40
hours a week as a night watchman at the catfish farm, but was told not to
"work more than 20 if I'm going to have a chance for disability." Tr.239. The
ALI's decision may be the same after the correct analysis; but Godfrey is
entitled to a correct analysis on the record as a whole. Groeper v. Sullivan, 932
F.2d 1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1991).
Godfrey asserts, based on a snapshot of rulings in 2010 and 2011, that
the ALJ is anti-claimant. Godfrey seeks a remand to another ALJ. The Court
declines to take this extraordinary step. Our law presumes "honesty and
integrity in adjudicators." Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.s. 35,47 (1975). Godfrey's
statistics do not overcome this presumption. This record shows a careful and
fair judge at work. If Godfrey believes the ALJ is not impartial, then he
should pursue his administrative remedies. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.940 &416.1440.
Reversed and remanded. This is a "sentence four" remand within the
meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.s. 89 (1991).
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
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