Honeycutt v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner and denying Ms. Honeycutt's application. The ALJ made no legal error and the court denies 2 Plaintiff's complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 6/27/2013. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
KIMBERLY RENEE HONEYCUTT
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
Kimberly Renee Honeycutt seeks judicial review of the denial of her third
application1 for disability insurance benefits. She first alleged disability beginning
September 9, 20052 — at age 27 — but she worked full-time in February 2008.3 Her
attorney amended that date to February 1, 2008.4 At that time, Ms. Honeycutt was 29.
Ms. Honeycutt has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in
early childhood services.5 She works part-time as an implementer assisting adults with
SSA record at p. 128-29 (prior applications denied on 12/29/1998 at age 20 and
3/15/2006 at age 26).
Id. at p. 105.
Id. at pp. 121, 133 & 174 (reporting full-time work as behavioral instructor from
Nov. 5, 2007 to Feb. 15, 2008).
Id. at p. 39.
Id. at p. 28.
developmental disabilities.6 She maintains tht she cannot work full-time due idopathic
neuropathy, lower back pain, neck pain, depression, and discoid lupus.7
The Commissioner’s decision. After considering Ms. Honeycutt’s application,
the Commissioner’s ALJ determined Ms. Honeycutt had severe impairments —
neuropathy, neck/back pain, headaches, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and mood
disorder8 — but she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do a reduced range
of light work.9 Because a vocational expert identified jobs a person with Ms.
Honeycutt’s RFC could do,10 the ALJ concluded that Ms. Honeycutt was not disabled
under the Social Security Act and denied the application.11
Id. at pp. 28-29 & 391.
Id. at p. 132.
Id. at p. 12.
Id. at p. 14 (reducing light work by: (1) occasional climbing, balancing, stooping,
bending, kneeling, or crawling; and (2) work where interpersonal contact is incidental to
work performed, complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, a few variables,
little judgment, and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete).
Id. at p. 44.
Id. at pp. 19-20.
After the Commissioner’s Appeals Council denied a request for review,12 the
ALJ’s decision became a final decision for judicial review.13 Ms. Honeycutt filed this
case to challenge the decision. In reviewing the decision, the court must determine
whether substantial evidence supports the decision and whether the ALJ made a legal
Severe impairments. Ms. Honeycutt maintains that the ALJ should have
considered pain disorder and discoid lupus as severe impairments.15 At step two of the
disability-determination process, the ALJ considers the medical severity of the
claimant’s impairments.16 Step two directs a conclusion of “non-disabled” if the
Id. at p. 1.
See Anderson v. Sullivan, 959 F.2d 690, 692 (8th Cir. 1992) (stating that “the Social
Security Act precludes general federal subject matter jurisdiction until administrative
remedies have been exhausted” and explaining that Commissioner’s appeal procedure
permits claimants to appeal only final decisions).
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (requiring district court to determine whether
Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether
Commissioner conformed with applicable regulations); Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923,
925 (8th Cir. 2009) (stating that the court’s “review of the Commissioner’s denial of
benefits is limited to whether the decision is ‘supported by substantial evidence in the
record as a whole’”); Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (“We will uphold
the Commissioner’s decision to deny an applicant disability benefits if the decision is
not based on legal error and if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to
support the conclusion that the claimant was not disabled.”).
Docket entry # 14, pp. 25-26.
20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).
claimant fails to prove a severe impairment. One purpose of step two is to weed out
claimants whose abilities to work are not significantly limited.17 If the claimant meets
her step-two burden, there can be no reversible error if the record shows that the ALJ
considered all of the medical evidence and all of the claimant’s impairments. Ms.
Honeycutt met her burden to show a severe impairment, so her application proceeded
to step three. The record shows the ALJ considered all of the medical evidence and all
of Ms. Honeycutt’s impairments. The ALJ identified symptoms of pain disorder —
neuropathy, neck pain, back pain, and deression — as severe impairments,18 and
discussed the medical evidence about discoid lupus and pain disorder.19 Ms. Honeycutt
showed no error.
Credibility. Ms. Honeycutt also complains about the evaluation of her
credibility. She alleged that disabling pain prevented her from working. She maintains
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 156-57 (1987) (O’Connor, J., concurring)
(explaining that Social Security Act authorizes Commissioner to weed out applications
by claimants who cannot possibly meet statutory definition of disability at step two of
SSA record at p. 12.
Id. at p. 16.
the psychological examiner’s diagnosis of pain disorder associated with psychological
factors20 supports her allegation.21
An ALJ has a duty to evaluate the claimant’s credibility.22 To evaluate Ms.
Honeycutt’s credibility, the ALJ followed the required two-step process23 and
considered the required factors.24 Thus, the question before the court is whether
substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s credibility evaluation.
“The ALJ may discount complaints of pain if they are inconsistent with the
evidence as a whole.”25 Here the ALJ determined the medical findings were
Id. at p. 464 (diagnosing pain disorder associated with psychological factors).
Docket entry # 14, pp. 22-25.
Nelson v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 363, 366 (8th Cir. 1992).
See Pol’y Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability
Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual’s Statements, SSR 96-7p.
In considering the credibility a claimant’s subjective complaints, an ALJ must
consider: (1) the claimant’s prior work record; (2) observations by third parties and
treating and examining physicians relating to such matters as: (a) the claimant’s daily
activities; (b) the duration, frequency and intensity of the pain; (c) precipitating and
aggravating factors; (d) dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medication; and (e)
functional restrictions. Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir. 1984). See SSR 967p, Pol’y Interpretation Ruling Titles II & XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims:
Assessing the Credibility of an Individual’s Statements.
Dunahoo v. Apfel, 241 F.3d 1033, 1038 (8th Cir. 2001). Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d
413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996) (“An ALJ may discount a claimant’s subjective complaints of
pain only if there are inconsistencies in the record as a whole.”).
inconsistent with disabling pain.26 Substantial evidence supports that determination
because treating physicians identified no cause for disabling pain. For example, the
neurologist’s examination findings were normal, except for nerve conduction studies
showing pyriformis syndrome.27 Pyriformis syndrome provided a cause for pain in the
upper back and buttock,28 but the neurologist determined tht Ms. Honeycutt’s pain did
not warrant medication.29
As another example, the first pain specialist examined Ms. Honeycutt twice and
found nothing to explain her complaints.30 The first pain specialist offered no treatment
for the “multiplicity of symptoms.”31 The second pain specialist had similar findings,
reporting that he could not “correlate subjective and objective findings.”32 The second
pain specialist administered a pain block for pyriformis syndrome.33
SSA record at p. 17.
Id. at p. 337.
Id. at p. 238 (reporting test results showing pyriformis syndrome and stating
that wold explain pain in upper back and buttocks).
Id. at pp. 237-38.
Id. at pp. 389-93 & 428-29.
Id. at pp. 389 & 429.
Id. at p. 284.
Id. at p. 284.
These medical findings are consistent with the psychological examiner’s
diagnosis because “in pain disorder, the severity or duration of pain or the degree of
associated disability is unexplained by observed medical or psychological problems.”34
Despite the diagnosis, the psychological examiner’s opinion was consistent with the
ability to work.35 Ms. Honeycutt’s allegation of disabling pain was inconsistent with the
record as a whole. The ALJ had a sufficient basis for discounting the allegation of
RFC. Ms. Honeycutt contends she cannot do light work on a full-time basis
because she cannot stand or walk for sufficient time. She also maintains that pain
prevents her from doing light work.36
After evaluating the claimant’s credibility, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s
RFC; but the claimant bears the burden of demonstrating RFC and proving disability.37
“Because a claimant’s RFC is a medical question, an ALJ’s assessment of it must be
Tanja Bekhuis & Emily Jane Willingham, 2 The Gale Encyclopedia of Mental
Health 1102 (3d ed.).
SSA record at 465 (reporting Ms. Honeycutt had capacity to: (1) communicate
and interact in socially adequate manner, (2) communicate in intelligible and effective
manner, (3) cope with mental demands of basic work tasks, (4) attend to and sustain
concentration on basic tasks, (5) sustain persistence in completing tasks, and
(7) complete work within acceptable time frame).
Document # 14, pp. 26-27.
Perks v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1086, 1092 (8th Cir. 2012).
supported by some medical evidence of the claimant’s ability to function in the
workplace.”38 After determining RFC, the ALJ may question a vocational expert “to
assess whether jobs exist for a person with the claimant’s precise disabilities.”39
The ALJ placed great weight on Ms. Honeycutt’s treatment records in
determining RFC. The treatment records provided no basis for disabling pain.
Radiologic imaging was normal.40 Neurological and musculoskeletal examinations
were normal.41 Laboratory results were negative.42 This evidence supported light work.
Medical evidence of neuropathy supported the restriction on climbing,
balancing, stooping, bending, kneeling, and crawling because neuropathy can cause
pain.43 Ms. Honeycutt’s doctors prescribed little pain medication. Evidence of
Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 619-20 (8th Cir. 2007).
Gilliam v. Califano, 620 F.2d 691, 694 n.1 (8th Cir. 1980).
SSA record at pp. 361-62 (Aug. 23, 2007, normal x-rays of lumbar spine and
right hand); p. 387 (May 12, 2008, normal MRI of neck); p. 289 (June 29, 2009, normal
MRI of lumbar spine except for accentuated lumbar lordotic curvature); p. 492 (Jan. 23,
2011, normal CT scan of head).
Id. at p. 380 (Mar. 3, 2008); pp. 392-93 (May 27, 2008); pp. 396-97 (Sept. 4, 2008);
pp. 222-23 (Oct. 16, 2008); pp. 428-29 (May 12, 2009); pp. 283-84 (June 26, 2009); pp. 43839 (July 7, 2009).
Id. at pp. 370 & 393 (negative rheumatoid factor tests and anti-nuclear antibody
screens on Sept. 21, 2007 and May 27, 2008).
Julia Barrett, 5 The Gale Encyclopedia of Med. 3343 (4th ed.).
depression supported the limitation on interpersonal contact, complexity of tasks, and
use of judgment because depression can make it harder to work.44
Discoid lupus provided no basis for further reducing the range of work.
Although the characteristic skin “lesions may be cosmetically unsightly, they are not life
threatening and usually do not cause a patient to change … her lifestyle.”45 Ms.
Honeycutt’s discoid lupus improved with treatment.46 Pain disorder provided no basis
for further reduction because the psychological examiner’s findings were consistent
with the ability to work. No medical evidence showed Ms. Honeycutt was limited in
standing or walking. “Her neuromuscular examination was essentially normal.
Reflexes were good. She was able to walk on toe and heel.”47
After determining RFC, the ALJ questioned a vocational expert about available
work.48 The question was properly phrased because it captured the concrete
Paul A. Johnson , Monique Laberge & William Atkins, 1 The Gale Encyclopedia
of Mental Health 449 (3d ed.).
Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, 2 The Gale Encyclopedia of Med. 1381 (4th ed.).
Compare SSA record at p. 209 (Nov. 7. 2006, lesions gone but discoid lupus more
fully revealed), with id. at p. 218 (Mar. 13, 2007, general improvement with topical
treatment and sun screen). See id. at p. 261 (May 19, 2009, one or two small lesions on
nose after sun exposure).
SSA record at p. 285 .
Id. at p. 43 (asking about light work limited: (1) due mild to moderate pain by
occasional balancing, stooping, bending, crouching, kneeling, and crawling; and (2) due
to mood disorder by work where interpersonal contact is incidental to work performed,
consequences of Ms. Honeycutt’s deficiencies.49 The vocational expert responded to the
ALJ and identified general office worker as representative available work.50 A
vocational expert’s testimony answering a properly phrased hypothetical question
constitutes substantial evidence; thus, the determination of residual functional capacity
is supported by substantial evidence.51
Conclusion. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision denying Ms.
Honeycutt’s application. The ALJ made no legal error. For these reasons, the court
DENIES the request for relief (docket entry # 2) and AFFIRMS the decision denying the
It is so ordered this 27th day of June, 2013.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
complexity of tasks is learned and performed by rote, a few variables, little judgment,
and the supervision required is simple, direct and concrete).
Perkins v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 892, 901-02 (8th Cir. 2011) (“hypothetical question
must capture the concrete consequences of the claimant’s deficiencies”).
SSA record at p. 44.
Partee v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 865 (8th Cir. 2011).
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