Maddox v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. The ALJ made no legal error. For these reasons, the Court denies 2 Complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 12/11/2013. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
Carolyn Sue Maddox
Cause No. 3:13‐CV‐067‐JTK
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION
Carolyn Sue Maddox seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for
disability insurance benefits, supplemental security income, and disabled widow’s
benefits.1 Maddox claims she has been disabled since September 1, 2009. She bases
disability on osteoporosis, back problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, uterus problems, polycystic fibrosis, diverticulitis, and a broken tail bone.2
The Commissioner’s decision. After considering the application, the
Commissioner’s ALJ determined Maddox has severe impairments — diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, pain disorder, osteoarthritis, diverticulitis, and
history of a broken tail bone3 — but she can do some light work, to include her past
Disability is defined in the same way for each of these disability benefits.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1505 (“The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”).
SSA record at p. 100.
Id. at p. 25.
work as a caregiver/ companion.4 Because a person who can do her past work is not
disabled,5 the ALJ determined Maddox is not disabled under the Social Security Act and
denied the application.
After the Commissioner’s Appeals Council denied a request for review,6 the
ALJ’s decision became a final decision for judicial review.7 Maddox 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.8
Ability to work. Maddox challenges the determination that she can do light
work.9 She maintains her knees, weight, and limited range of motion prevent working.
Id. at p. 32.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4) (“If you can still do your past relevant
work, we will find that you are not disabled.”).
SSA record at p. 4.
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); 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. 19‐21.
She maintains substantial evidence does not support the ALJ’s decision.
For substantial evidence to exist, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as
adequate to show Maddox can do some light work. “Light work involves lifting no
more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up
to 10 pounds.”10 The ALJ reduced light work by occasional crouching, stooping, and
kneeling, and no crawling.11 A reasonable mind would accept the following evidence as
adequate to show Maddox can work within these parameters:
1. Evidence about osteoporosis. Maddox bases disability, in part, on
osteoporosis — “a disease characterized by low bone mass and
deterioration of bone tissues, leading to bone fragility and, consequently,
an increase in fracture risk.”12 The record contains no evidence of
osteoporosis. A bone density scan showed normal bone density.13 “The
risk for fracture is not increased.”14 A reasonable mind would accept this
evidence as adequate to show osteoporosis does not impair Maddox’s
ability to work.
2. Evidence about back problems and a broken tail bone. Maddox also
bases disability on back pain and a broken tail bone.15 Maddox reported a
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) & 416.967(b).
SSA record at p. 28.
Jennifer F. Wilson, Tish Davidson & Rebecca J. Frey, 4 The Gale Encyclopedia of
Med. 3194 (4th ed.).
SSA record at p. 205.
Id. at pp. 87‐88 (reporting back pain and a broken tail bone that may be the
source of back pain).
fall to her doctor.16 The doctor later assessed lumbar strain.17 Lumbar
strain ordinarily resolves with conservative treatment.
Maddox’s physical examination provides the only significant evidence of
a back problem. The examiner found a decreased range of motion in the
low back. Maddox can bend to 75 degrees, as compared to a normal range
of 90 degrees.18 The examiner reported a mild limitation in the ability to
change positions, and a moderate limitation in the ability to kneel and
stoop.19 These findings support the limitations placed on light work, but
suggest no impairment preventing light work. The record contains no
evidence of a broken tail bone. A reasonable mind would accept the
evidence as adequate to show that neither a back problem nor a broken
tail bone prevents Maddox from doing light work.
3. Evidence about hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. In June
2008, Maddox was diagnosed with hypertension and high cholesterol;20
the following November, she was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, type
II.21 Maddox’s doctor prescribed medication for hypertension, high
cholesterol, and diabetes. Maddox continued working full‐time as a
caregiver/companion. Maddox’s hypertension, high cholesterol, and
diabetes can be controlled with medication.22 “An impairment which can
Id. at p. 268 (reporting that she fell at work on Sept. 28, 2009, and complaining
about sleepiness and vision problems).
Id. at p. 255 (listing acute lumbar strain as a new problem).
Id. at p. 190.
Id. at p. 191.
Id. at p. 334 (treatment note listing hypertension as a new problem); p. 323
(treatment note listing hypercholesterolemia as a new problem).
Id. at p. 320 (treatment note listing diabetes mellitus as a new problem).
Id. at pp. 301, 407 & 423.
be controlled by treatment or medication is not considered disabling.”23 A
reasonable mind would accept the evidence about hypertension, high
cholesterol, and diabetes as adequate to show that these conditions do not
prevent light work.
5. Evidence about uterus problems. Maddox also relies on uterus
problems to support her claim. In December 2009, a gynecologist
determined Maddox has a moderate uterus prolapse.24 Uterus prolapse
occurs when the uterus sags into the vagina; childbirth, aging, loss of
estrogen, and obesity increase the risk of uterus prolapse.25 Maddox has
these risk factors.26 Maddox’s doctor prescribed estrogen cream and
exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles.27 Maddox sought no
followup care. The lack of further treatment indicates uterus prolapse
does not prevent light work.
6. Evidence about polycystic fibrosis. A 2007 mammogram showed
microcalcifications in the left breast.28 A biopsy showed non‐cancerous,
fibrocystic tissue.29 Subsequent mammograms were normal.30 No
evidence suggests fibrocystic breast tissue causes pain or any other
symptom. No evidence shows fibrocystic breast tissue prevents light
Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 725 (8th Cir. 2002).
SSA record at p. 161‐62.
Ann Quigley & Laura Jean Cataldo, 5 The Gale Encyclopedia of Med. 3317‐18
Childbirth: Maddox has five children. Age: She was 61 when she applied for
disability benefits. Obesity: Her height and weight indicate obesity.
SSA record at p. 162.
Id. at p. 350 (“The calcifications are sufficiently suspicious for occult cancer to
warrant histologic examination by stereotactic localization.”).
Id. at p. 364 (benign pathology report).
Id. at pp. 342 & 366.
7. Evidence about alleged diverticulitis. Maddox testified that she
stopped working because she became ill from diverticulosis and required
surgery.31 Diverticulosis “refers to a condition in which the inner, lining
layer of the large intestine (colon) bulges out (herniates) through the outer,
muscular layer.”32 Maddox stated that she continues to have bowel
problems, even after her surgery; she says she must use the bathroom five
or six times daily.33 The record, however, contains no medical evidence of
diverticulitis. In the absence of medical evidence, Maddox cannot prove
disability based on diverticulitis, because an ALJ’s determination about a
person’s ability to work must be supported by medical evidence.34
8. Evidence about knee pain. Diagnostic imaging shows mild
osteoarthritis in both knees; the left knee also has a small bone spur.35
These findings may cause pain and make it harder to kneel and crawl, but
without more, they do not prevent light work. The ALJ accounted for
knee pain by limiting kneeling and eliminating crawling.
9. Evidence about weight. Maddox’s most significant limitation likely
flows from her weight. Her weight and height indicate obesity. Obesity
can limit the ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, and pull; “[i]t may
also affect [the] ability to do postural functions, such as climbing,
balanc[ing], stooping, and crouching.”36 The medical experts opined that
Maddox can occasionally lift 50 pounds and frequently lift and carry 25
Id. at p. 435.
Rosalyn Carson‐DeWitt, 2 The Gale Encyclopedia of Med. 1394 (4th ed.).
SSA record at p. 439.
Flynn v. Astrue, 513 F.3d 788, 792 (8th. Cir. 2008); Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642,
646 (8th Cir. 2003).
SSA record at p. 164.
SSR 02‐1p: Policy Interpretation Ruling Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Obesity,
pounds.37 The medical opinions reflect more capacity than needed for
light work, but the ALJ reduced Maddox’s ability to work to light work.
No medical evidence supports a further reduction.
10. Mental diagnostic evaluation. After her husband passed away,
Maddox was treated her for depression and anxiety.38 The ALJ responded
by ordering a mental diagnostic evaluation.39 The evaluator found no
mental symptoms limiting Maddox’s ability to work.40 Maddox reported
that pain and physical limitation caused her to reduce her work hours, not
mental symptoms.41 The evaluator diagnosed pain disorder associated
with medical and psychological factors, depressive disorder, and anxiety
disorder.42 Maddox’s psychotropic medications controls her symptoms.43
A reasonable mind would accept the mental diagnostic evaluation as
adequate to show that mental impairment does not prevent Maddox from
11. Work history. Maddox worked full‐time as a caregiver/companion
from 1993 to 2009.44 In November 2009, her patient moved to a nursing
home.45 The patient’s family then employed Maddox to sit with the
patient for two days per week, seven hours per day.46 Maddox told the
Id. at pp. 193 & 427
Id. at pp. 319‐20.
Id. at p. 165.
Id. at pp. 171‐72.
Id. at p. 167.
Id. at p. 170.
Id. at p. 166.
Id. at pp. 79, 101 & 167.
Id. at p. 120.
Id. at pp. 63, 112 & 161.
mental diagnostic evaluator that she stopped working full‐time because
she could no longer lift her patient,47 but a reasonable mind would accept
this work history as adequate to show that Maddox stopped working full‐
time for reasons other than her health.
A vocational expert classified Maddox’s past work as light work.48 The
vocational expert stated that a person who can occasionally crouch, kneel, and stoop,
but not crawl, can work as a caregiver/companion. This evidence shows work exists
that Maddox can do. Although Maddox’s past job is no longer available, the law
requires an ALJ to consider all work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, regardless of whether such work exists where Maddox lives, whether a job
vacancy exists, or whether she would be hired if she applied for work.49
To the extent Maddox contends the ALJ failed to ask the vocational expert about
all of her limitations,50 that claim flows from her allegations. The ALJ is not required to
question a vocational expert about alleged impairments.51 The ALJ’s question captured
Id. at p. 167.
Id. at p. 443.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Docket entry # 11, p. 21.
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (“A hypothetical is sufficient if it
sets forth impairments supported by substantial evidence in the record and accepted as
true by the ALJ.”).
the concrete consequences of Maddox’s impairments.52 The ALJ properly determined
that Maddox over‐stated her limitations.
Conclusion. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ made no
legal error. For these reasons, the court DENIES Maddox’s request for relief (docket
entry # 2) and AFFIRMS the decision denying the application.
It is so ordered this 11th day of December, 2013.
United States Magistrate Judge
Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 889‐90 (8th Cir. 2006) (“[T]he hypothetical
question need not frame the claimant’s impairments in the specific diagnostic terms
used in medical reports, but instead should capture the ‘concrete consequences’ of those
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