Crouch v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION. The Court denies Crouch's 2 Complaint and affirms the decision denying the application. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 9/13/2013. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Debbie Lynn Crouch
Cause No. 3: 13‐CV‐061‐JTK
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION
Debbie Lynn Crouch seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Crouch did a lot of
heavy manual labor in the past.1 She last worked for Barton’s delivering lumber and
sheet‐rock, and for Dillard’s unloading and stocking merchandise.2 Crouch stopped
working after hurting her back.
Eight months later, Crouch applied for disability benefits.3 She based disability
on fibromyalgia, back problems, bipolar disorder, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety and
high blood pressure.4 She underwent back surgery the following month.5 Despite back
surgery, Crouch cannot return to her past work, but she maintains she can do no work.
SSA record at pp. 138 & 155‐62.
Id. at p. 138.
Id. at pp. 109 & 115.
Id. at p. 137.
Id. at p. 379.
The Commissioner’s decision. After considering the application, the
Commissioner’s ALJ determined Crouch has severe impairments — degenerative disc
disease, fibromyalgia, and mood disorder6 — but Crouch can do some sedentary work.7
Because a vocational expert identified available work,8 the ALJ determined Crouch was
not disabled under the Social Security Act and denied the application.9
After the Commissioner’s Appeals Council denied a request for review,10 the
ALJ’s decision became a final decision for judicial review.11 Crouch 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 error.12
Id. at p. 12.
Id. at p. 13 (reducing sedentary work by the following: (1) occasional stooping,
crouching, and overhead reaching; (2) interpersonal contact incidental to the work
performed; (3) complexity of tasks is learned by demonstration or repetition within 30
days with few variables and little judgment; and (4) supervision required is simple,
direct and concrete).
Id. at pp. 40‐41.
Id. at p. 20.
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
Treating physician opinion. Crouch challenges the ALJ’s consideration of her
PCP’s medical opinion about her physical ability to work.13 The PCP’s opinion is
reflected in a medical source statement and sets forth limitations precluding all work.14
Crouch maintains the opinion was entitled to controlling weight because it is consistent
with her well‐documented complaints of pain from fibromyalgia, her back, and her
Under the treating‐physician rule, an ALJ must give a treating physician’s
opinion “controlling weight” if it “is well‐supported by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence.”15 The treating‐physician opinion in this case is not supported by medically
Commissioner conformed with applicable regulations); 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
Docket entry # 11, pp. 27‐29.
SSA record at pp. 554‐55 (reporting the following limitations: (1) lift/carry less
than 10 pounds occasionally and frequently; (2) sit for no more than six hours during
eight‐hour day for no more than 15 minutes at a time; (3) stand/walk for no more than
two hours during eight‐hour day for no more than 30 minutes at a time; (4) limited
ability to push/pull with right hand; (5) limited ability to use foot controls with left foot;
(6) no climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, or crouching; and (7) only occasional
bending, reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling.
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005).
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and it is inconsistent with other
substantial evidence. The PCP reported numerous physical limitations in the medical
source statement, but recorded no physical limitations in the contemporaneous
treatment note.16 The treatment note documented normal gait and station, pain in the
right arm with passive range of motion, tenderness in the low back with palpation,
negative straight leg raise testing, and normal deep tendon reflexes. Normal gait, right
arm pain, and low back tenderness do not support the disabling limitations set forth in
the opinion. In addition, negative straight leg raise testing and normal deep tendon
reflexes ruled out nerve root irritation which might support an allegation of disabling
back pain. If a person is so disabled as to preclude all sedentary work, the treatment
notes would likely document physical limitations. The ALJ did not err by giving the
opinion less than controlling weight because no correlation exists between the
limitations set forth in the opinion and the examination findings documented in
Ability to do sedentary work. Crouch also challenges the ALJ’s determination
that she can do some sedentary work.17 She maintains she cannot sit long enough to do
sedentary work. She also maintains he right arm is more restricted than just overhead
Id. at pp. 559‐61.
Docket entry # 11, pp. 29‐31.
reaching. She complains that the ALJ did not consider the psychological examiner’s
opinion that she cannot complete tasks in a timely manner. She contends the
determination about her ability to work is not supported by substantial evidence.
“Substantial evidence ‘means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’”18 For substantial evidence to exist in this
case, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate to show Crouch can do
some sedentary work. Sedentary work “involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a
time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small
tools.”19 It is “a significantly restricted range of work. Individuals who are limited to
no more than sedentary work by their medical impairments have very serious
The evidence in this case does not document very serious functional limitations t
precluding all sedentary work. After back surgery, Crouch’s neurosurgeon was happy
with her progress.21 Crouch reported an 80% reduction in pain.22 “Straight leg raise test
Britton v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 328, 330 (8th Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted).
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) & 416.967(a).
SSR 96‐9p, Pol’y Interpretation RulingTitles II & XVI: Determining Capability to Do
Other Work‐‐Implications of a Residual Functional Capacity for Less Than a Full Range of
SSA record at p. 386.
Id. at p. 385.
[was] negative bilaterally. Motor strength in the [legs was] preserved.”23 Crouch was
“doing really well.”24 The neurosurgeon asked her to return in two months,25 but
Crouch did not return.
The following month, Crouch told her PCP that her pain had not improved.26
Four months later, Crouch felt “well with no complaints;”27 eleven months later, she felt
well and reported a 70% reduction in pain with her medications.28 The evidence about
the back does not reflect functional limitation preventing sedentary work. Instead, it
supports the ALJ’s limitation on stooping and crouching.
The evidence about arm pain flowed from an at‐home injury to the right elbow.29
The same elbow was struck the year before at work, but that blow did not prevent
Crouch working. The PCP sent Crouch to an orthopedist. Diagnostic imaging revealed
a normal elbow; the orthopedist diagnosed severe tennis elbow.30 Three months later,
Id. at p. 398.
Id. at p. 539.
Id. at p. 562.
Id. at p. 259.
Id. at p. 369.
the elbow was “much improved,” with little tenderness and a full range of motion.31
The orthopedist asked Crouch to return in six weeks, but Crouch did not return. The
evidence about the right arm does not reflect a functional limitation that prevents all
sedentary work. Instead, it supports the ALJ’s limitation on overhead reaching.
The evidence of fibromyalgia flowed from the PCP’s treatment notes. Although
the notes provide no basis for diagnosing fibromyalgia, the notes show Crouch did
“heavy” work despite fibromyalgia.32 Nothing shows fibromyalgia imposed a very
serious functional limitation preventing sedentary work. Instead, the evidence showed
fibromyalgia had little bearing on Crouch’s ability to work.
The evidence about the mental capacity flowed from the PCP’s treatment notes
and the psychological examiner’s report of mental diagnostic evaluation. The treatment
notes show the PCP prescribed psychotic drugs for depression and anxiety. The report
shows mental impairment posed no serious limitation preventing sedentary work.
Crouch told the psychological examiner that her medications controlled her moods
fairly well. She explained that most of her depression flowed from pain.33 Crouch
Id. at pp. 366‐67.
Compare id. at p. 481 (working at Barton’s; still having some fibromyalgia pain
but less), with id. at p. 39 (classifying Crouch’s last two truck‐driving jobs as “heavy”
Id. at pp. 500‐01.
denied problems interacting with others on the job.34 She stopped working due to
physical pain, not a mental impairment.35
The examiner opined that Crouch has the abilities to: (1) communicate and
interact in a socially adequate manner, (2) communicate in an intelligible and effective
manner, (3) cope with the typical demands of basic work‐like tasks, (4) attend to and
sustain concentration on basic tasks, and (5) sustain persistence in completing tasks.36
These findings indicate Crouch has the mental capacity for working.
The only contrary finding is that Crouch “does not appear to have the capacity to
compete work‐like tasks within an acceptable timeframe.”37 Although this finding
tends to preclude all work, the only reasonable interpretation of the statement — when
considered in light of the entire report — is that the statement is an error. If a person
can attend to and sustain concentration on basic tasks, and sustain persistence in
completing tasks, she can complete work‐like tasks within an acceptable time frame.
Logically, the statement should have read, “The claimant does appear to have the
capacity to complete work‐like tasks within an acceptable time frame.” Although the
Id. at p. 502.
Id. at p. 506.
Id. at pp. 506‐07.
Id. at p. 507 (italics added).
ALJ did not expressly address the erroneous finding, the ALJ’s determination implicitly,
and properly, rejected the finding as a scrivener’s error. Limiting interpersonal contact
and eliminating complex tasks sufficiently accounted for any mental impairment
flowing from mental illness and/or pain.
Conclusion. The ALJ made no legal error. A reasonable mind would accept the
evidence as adequate to show Crouch can do some sedentary work. For these reasons,
the court DENIES Crouch’s request for relief (docket entry # 2) and AFFIRMS the
decision denying the application.
It is so ordered this 13th day of September, 2013.
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?