Pitchford v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. The ALJ made no legal error. For these reasons, the court denies Pitchford's request for relief, 2 , and affirms the Commissioner's decision. Signed by Magistrate Judge J. Thomas Ray on 8/21/2015. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
David Pitchford, Jr.
CASE NO. 3:14CV00168 JTR
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
David Pitchford, Jr. seeks judicial review of the denial of his application for
disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). Pitchford
applied for DIB and SSI on July 1, 2010, with an alleged onset date of May 28, 2010.1
SSI benefits, however, cannot be received prior to the application date.2 Therefore, the
alleged onset date for purposes of SSI is July 1, 2010. Pitchford’s date last insured
(DLI) is March 31, 2011.3 He is currently employed as a truck driver.4 Pitchford bases
disability on dyslexia, short term memory loss, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes,
depression, hearing voices, violent behavior and pain in legs.5
SSA record at pp. 123 & 130.
Cruse v. Bowen, 867 F.2d 1183, 1185 (8th Cir. 1989); 20 C.F.R. § 416.335.
SSA record at p. 166.
Id. at pp. 30-32.
Id. at p. 189.
The Commissioner’s decision. The Commissioner’s ALJ determined that
Pitchford has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 28, 2010.6
Pitchford has severe impairments - obesity, mild sleep apnea, diabetes and
hypertension.7 None of Pitchford’s severe impairments meet the Listings, and
Pitchford can perform the full range of light work.8 The ALJ held that Pitchford
cannot perform past relevant work, and pursuant to the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines, he is not disabled.9 Pitchford’s application was denied.10
After the Commissioner’s Appeals Council denied a request for review, the
ALJ’s decision became a final decision for judicial review.11 Pitchford 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. 15.
Id. at p. 17.
Id. at p. 20.
Id. at p. 21.
See Anderson v. Sullivan, 959 F.2d 690, 692 (8th Cir. 1992) (stating, “the
Social Security Act precludes general federal subject matter jurisdiction until
administrative remedies have been exhausted” and explaining that the appeal
procedure permits claimants to appeal only final decisions).
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (requiring the district court to determine whether the
Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the
Pitchford’s allegations. Pitchford maintains that (1) the RFC is not supported
by substantial evidence; and (2) the ALJ erred in using the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines to determine Pitchford’s disability status. These arguments are not
persuasive. No error occurred, and the disability determination is supported by
Substantial evidence is “less than a preponderance but . . . enough that a
reasonable mind would find it adequate to support the conclusion.”13 For substantial
evidence to exist in this case, a reasonable mind must accept the evidence as adequate
to support the ALJ’s denial of benefits.14
RFC. Pitchford asserts that the RFC determination is not supported by
substantial evidence. Specifically, Pitchford cites the opinion testimony of a
consulting physician and the fact that Pitchford is obese, as establishing that he is not
capable of the full range of light work. Pitchford’s argument is not persuasive.
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 any
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.”).
Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and
Britton v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 328, 330 (8th Cir. 1990).
In November 2010, a consulting physician conducted a physical examination
The consulting physician noted that Pitchford has intermittent
claudication, and can walk forty-five feet before symptoms begin.17 The pain is
located in Pitchford’s calf and left thigh and lasts for approximately two to three
hours.18 The physician also indicated that Pitchford experiences shortness of breath
upon activity and dyspnea after nine or ten steps.19 Pitchford was assessed a mild to
moderate limitation in walking and standing.20 The records also establish that
Pitchford is morbidly obese. Pitchford is approximately 6'0" and weighs
approximately 305 pounds.21
Even though the consulting physician found some limitations and Pitchford is
morbidly obese, the RFC of full light work is supported by substantial evidence.
Importantly, the consulting physician also found that Pitchford has a normal range of
SSA record at p. 277.
Although Pitchford maintains that the ALJ did not fully evaluate the opinion
evidence from the consulting physician, this is not the case. The ALJ thoroughly
discussed the physical examination.
SSA record at p. 278.
Id. at pp. 277-278.
Id. at p. 281.
Id. at p. 338.
motion in his extremities, no muscle spasms, no edema, is able to stand/walk without
an assistive device and can walk on heels and toes.22 Also, although multiple
physicians have identified Pitchford as morbidly obese, they have never limited his
activities. Indeed, although outside the relevant time period, in 2009 Pitchford was
cleared for work for two years following a Department of Transportation physical.23
At that time Pitchford’s weight was greater than his current weight, and his treating
physician stated that his physical examination was within normal limits.24
During the relevant time period, Pitchford never sought treatment for pain in
his legs. He also never stated that he was having problems walking or standing. On
the contrary, multiple treatment notes indicate that Pitchford ambulates without
difficulty and has a normal gait.25 In September 2011, a medical professional indicated
that Pitchford had no known physical impairments and moved all extremities with
Id. at pp. 279-281.
Id. at p. 246.
Id. at pp. 246-247.
Id. at pp. 326 & 344.
equal strength.26 The most recent treatment record available - a mental health
treatment note - indicates that “patient is back to work and reports doing well.”27
Pitchford does not consistently seek medical care, and he has a history of
noncompliance. Pitchford will go for many months at a time without seeking any
medical care. His physician has made notes about noncompliance with prescription
medications on multiple occasions.28 Such episodic treatment and noncompliance
weigh against Pitchford’s allegations and therefore support the RFC.29
Assessments conducted by state physicians provide further support for the RFC.
In November 2010, a state physician completed a Physical Residual Functional
Capacity Assessment.30 Reviewing the medical records, the physician determined that
Id. at pp. 326-327.
Id. at p. 342.
Id. at pp. 307, 309 & 313.
See Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 964, 968 (8th Cir. 2003) (An ALJ may
discount a claimant’s subjective complaints of pain based on the claimant’s failure to
pursue regular medical treatment.”); Gwathney v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th
Cir. 1997) (failing to seek medical assistance for alleged physical and mental
impairments contradicted claimant’s allegations of disabling conditions and supported
unfavorable decision); Ostronski v. Chater, 94 F.3d 413, 419 (8th Cir. 1996)
(complaints of disabling pain and functional limitations are inconsistent with the
failure to take prescription pain medication or to seek regular medical treatment for
SSA record at p. 286.
Pitchford is capable of performing light work.31 A second state physician affirmed that
opinion a month later.32 In a 2013 Mental Diagnostic Evaluation, a psychologist stated
that Pitchford appeared to be physically healthy, and is “mentally, emotionally, and
physically capable to continue working.”33 The psychologist further indicated that
Pitchford “doesn’t describe a disability that would prevent him from working.”34
Pitchford’s activities of daily living also support the RFC. In the Function
Report, Pitchford stated that he tends to personal care without assistance, prepares his
own meals, drives a car and can go out alone.35 There is also the important fact that
Pitchford continues to work. Although not at a substantially gainful level, Pitchford
is employed as a truck driver.36 This supports the ALJ’s RFC determination.
A reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to support the ALJ’s
RFC. The RFC is supported by substantial evidence.
Id. at p. 299.
Id. at pp. 347 & 349.
Id. at p. 346.
Id. at pp. 173-175.
Id. at pp. 31-32.
Medical-Vocational Guidelines. Pitchford maintains that the ALJ erred in
relying on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine his disability status.
Pitchford asserts that the ALJ was required to obtain vocational expert testimony
because he is obese, and obesity is a nonexertional impairment.
Pitchford is correct that obesity is a nonexertional impairment. “Obesity is also
a nonexertional impairment which might significantly restrict a claimant’s ability to
perform the full range of sedentary work.”37 The inquiry, however, does not end there.
“However, if the ALJ finds that the claimant’s nonexertional impairment does not
diminish or significantly limit the claimant’s residual function capacity to perform the
full range of Guideline-listed activities, the ALJ may apply the Guidelines in spite of
a nonexertional impairment.”38 By applying the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, the
ALJ implicitly rejected the existence of a nonexertional limitation stemming from
Pitchford’s obesity. Therefore, the dispositive question is whether a reasonable mind
will accept the evidence as adequate to show obesity poses no exertional limitation.
As discussed above, no limitations were ever placed on Pitchford due to his
obesity. While obese, he had a normal physical examination. Further, in treatment
notes, Pitchford never complained of problems walking, sitting, or completing tasks
Lucy v. Chater, 113 F.3d 905, 909 (8th Cir. 1997).
Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 488 (8th Cir. 1995).
due to his obesity. Pitchford also continues to work despite his obesity. A reasonable
mind would accept all of this evidence as adequate to show that obesity posed no
exertional limitation. The ALJ did not err in relying on the Medical-Vocational
Conclusion. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ made
no legal error. For these reasons, the court DENIES Pitchford’s request for relief
(docket entry # 2) and AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s decision.
It is so ordered this 21st day of August, 2015.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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