Nix v. Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER. The Court concludes that the record as a whole does not contain ample evidence that "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support [the] conclusion" of the ALJ in this case. The ALJ's decision is reversed and remanded, with instructions to further develop the record as necessary and to perform a proper evaluation of the treating physician opinions. Signed by Magistrate Judge J. Thomas Ray on 11/14/2016. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JOHN THOMPSON NIX, JR.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Social Security Administration
ORDER REMANDING TO THE COMMISSIONER
John Nix (“Nix”) applied for social security disability benefits with an alleged
onset date of September 17, 2012. (R. at 56). His applications were denied by the
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), and the Appeals Council denied review. (R. at 1).
The ALJ’s decision stands as the Commissioner’s final decision, and Nix has
requested judicial review.1
For the reasons stated below, this Court reverses and remands the
The Commissioner’s Decision
The ALJ found that Nix had the severe impairments of status post right total
knee arthroplasty, COPD, osteoarthritis, left eye blindness, and obesity. (R. at 17).
The ALJ then determined that Nix’s impairments left him with the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work except that he could not
The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge.
perform work requiring excellent bilateral vision; could only occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, and crawl; could never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds or kneel; must avoid unprotected heights, hazards, and concentrated
exposure to fumes, odors, and gases. (R. at 18). The ALJ took testimony from an
vocational expert (“VE”) and determined that the RFC precluded Nix’s past relevant
work. (R. at 22). The VE testified that the RFC would allow work in jobs such as
telephone sales and dispatcher, and the ALJ therefore held that Nix was not disabled.
(R. at 22–23).
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).
Nix argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence
on the record as a whole because the ALJ improperly weighed the opinions of Nix’s
treating physician and failed to properly incorporate the limitations from those
The ALJ gave great weight to a November 2013 opinion by Dr. Jason Brandt,
Nix’s treating physician, but gave little weight to a December 2013 opinion by the
same doctor. (R. at 21). Nix notes that, in weighing the November 2013 opinion, the
ALJ stated that the “opinion is given great weight as it is consistent with the
claimant’s ability to perform work at the sedentary level with additional limitations
due to his decreased range of motion.” (R. at 21). As Nix observes, this reasoning is
backwards. An ALJ must give good reasons for the weight given to an opinion. Cline
v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1103 (8th Cir. 2014). In this instance, the ALJ seems to
have come to a conclusion before assigning weight to the evidence, and such reasons
are not good reasons. As Nix also notes, the November 2013 and December 2013
opinions have no appreciable differences between them (R. at 419–21, 435–36). The
differences between the opinions owe more to the different formats of the opinion
forms rather than to any substantive difference.
Nix also notes that the ALJ, in weighing the December 2013 opinion, stated
that Nix “testified that he was able to drive, shop for groceries and help his disabled
girlfriend.” (R. at 22). Nix argues that the actual testimony was that his girlfriend
and teenage daughter assist him with household chores and that he can sit on a chair
to prepare meals and set clothes on a chair in order to load them into a washing
machine. (R. at 38–39, 42–43). The ALJ’s characterization of Nix’s testimony is
inaccurate, and such a characterization does not support the ALJ’s decision. The
ALJ’s reasons for weighing the opinions of Nix’s treating physician are inadequate,
and the decision is therefore not supported by substantial evidence on the record as
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 does not contain 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 ALJ’s decision is therefore REVERSED and
REMANDED, with instructions to further develop the record as necessary and to
perform a proper evaluation of the treating physician opinions.
It is so ordered this 14th day of November, 2016.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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