Thomas v. Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER. Signed by Magistrate Judge J. Thomas Ray on 8/31/2016. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
On August 9, 2012 Tiffany Thomas (“Thomas”) applied for social security
disability benefits. (R. 132-143).
After conducting a hearing (R. 24-36), the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) entered a written decision denying benefits. (R.
9-18). The Appeals Council later denied her request for review (R. 1), thereby
making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Thomas has
appealed that final decision to this Court. 1
For the reasons explained below, this Court affirms the ALJ’s decision.
The Commissioner’s Decision
The ALJ determined that Thomas: (1) had the severe mental impairment of
avoidant personality traits, but no severe physical impairment; (2) had the physical
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at all exertional levels; and
(3) had the mental RFC to understand, remember, and carry out simple job
instructions, make judgments in simple work situations, respond appropriately to
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United Stated Magistrate Judge.
co-workers and supervisors (though limited to occasional incidental contact not
necessary for the job), have no contact with the general public on the job, and
respond appropriately to minor changes in the work routine. (R. 12, 14).
Because Thomas had no past relevant work, the ALJ heard testimony from a
vocational expert, who opined jobs existed in the national economy that Thomas
could perform, including positions such as warehouse worker or clean-up worker.
(R. 17-18). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Thomas was not disabled. (R. 18).
Thomas maintains that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Specifically, she contends that the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop
the record. Thomas argues that she has documented mental impairments that
required the ALJ to send her for another consultative examination to establish her
mental functional abilities.
The Court’s function on review is to determine whether the Commissioner’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether
it is based on legal error. Miller v. Colvin, 784 F.3d 472, 477 (8th Cir. 2015); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While “substantial evidence” is that which a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, “substantial evidence on
the record as a whole” requires a court to engage in a more scrutinizing analysis:
“[O]ur review is more than an examination of the record
for the existence of substantial evidence in support of the
Commissioner’s decision; we also take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from that decision.”
Reversal is not warranted, however, “merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
Reed v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).
“The ALJ . . . may order consultative evaluations only if the available
evidence does not provide an adequate basis for determining the merits of the
disability claim.” Sultan v. Barnhart, 368 F.3d 857, 863 (8th Cir. 2004). The “ALJ
is permitted to issue a decision without obtaining additional medical evidence so
long as other evidence in the record provides a sufficient basis for the ALJ's
decision.” Kamann v. Colvin, 721 F.3d 945, 950 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Naber v.
Shalala, 22 F.3d 186, 189 (8th Cir. 1994)).
Thomas has not challenged the ALJ’s determination of her physical RFC.
The record regarding Thomas’s nonexertional limitations provides little support for
her claim that the ALJ was obligated to order a second consultative examination to
further evaluate her mental limitations.
Importantly, the record contains no
treatment history for any mental impairments.
During a consultative physical
exam by a family medicine doctor, he found no limitations in Thomas’s physical
abilities but noted that he believed Thomas had a learning disability and questioned
her intelligence. (R. 257). He also questioned whether autism was a “possibility”
for Thomas. (R. 254). All of these opinions were reached during the doctor’s
physical examination of Thomas, and there is no indication he performed any
objective mental testing or what, if any, specific training he has in devining his
patients’ intelligence quotient or hazarding a guess about whether they were
autistic. Thomas relies on this subjective opinion from a family medicine doctor
who saw her one time for a consultative physical exam to support her argument
that the ALJ was required to order a second consultative exam to establish her
mental practical abilities.
On October 22, 2012, Thomas was seen for a consultative psychological
evaluation by Samuel B. Hester, Ph. D. Dr. Hester’s mental diagnostic evaluation
did not find any mental impairments, but noted that Thomas exhibited avoidant
personality traits. (R. 259-267). In an earlier initial assessment, an independent
psychological examiner noted that Thomas seemed to exhibit “below average to
average intelligence,” (R. 250), which was consistent with a notation by one of her
former high school teachers, who observed problems in Thomas’s ability to
understand and participate in class discussions; provide organized oral
explanations and adequate descriptions; express ideas in written form; and apply
problem solving skills. (R. 212).
Despite the challenges noted by one of her teachers, Thomas graduated high
school with a cumulative grade point average of 2.8475 and a class rank of 14 out
of 43.2 (R. 209). The independent psychological examiner noted strengths in
reading comprehension, problem solving ability, and arithmetic. (R. 250). Thomas
expressed to the psychological examiner a strong love of reading. (R. 186, 190,
On balance, the evidence cannot reasonably be interpreted to indicate that
Thomas has a mental impairment that required the ALJ to order a second
consultative psychological evaluation. The only suggestion that Thomas has any
existing mental impairment comes from the family medicine doctor who performed
her physical examination and made the passing remark (without citing any tests or
other medical evidence) that he believed Thomas had a learning disability and
possibly autism. Those speculative observations are in sharp conflict with the
opinions of the clinical psychologist consultant who performed Thomas’s mental
evaluation and the independent psychological examiner who met with Thomas.
Finally, Thomas has no history of treatment for or diagnosis of any mental
impairments or any related sequelae that might be deemed to constitute a severe
impairment, and her academic record in high school suggests she possesses
Accordingly, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
decision that Thomas has the physical RFC and the mental RFC to engage in
substantial gainful activity.
While she was in special education classes in elementary school, Thomas attended regular
classes throughout high school. (R. 248).
It is not the task of this Court to review the evidence and make an
independent decision. Neither is it to reverse the decision of the ALJ because there
is evidence in the record which contradicts his findings. The test is whether there is
substantial evidence in the record as a whole which supports the decision of the
ALJ. Miller, 784 F.3d at 477. The Court has reviewed the entire record, including
the briefs, the ALJ's decision, and the transcript of the hearing. The Court
concludes that the record as a whole contains ample evidence that “a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support [the] conclusion” of the ALJ in this case.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The Court further concludes that
the ALJ's decision is not based on legal error.
It is so ordered this 31st day of August, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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