Green v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. The case is dismissed, with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 1/11/2018. (jak)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner
Social Security Administration
On April 28, 2015, Nicholas Green applied for disability income benefits, alleging
disability beginning on April 28, 2015. (Tr. at 22) Mr. Green’s claims were denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative
Law Judge (AALJ@) denied Mr. Green’s application (Tr. at 32), and the Appeals Council
denied his request for review. (Tr. at 1) Thus, the ALJ=s decision now stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner, and Mr. Green has requested judicial review. For the
reasons stated below, the Court 1 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
The Commissioner=s Decision:
The ALJ found that Mr. Green had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date of April 28, 2015. (Tr. at 24) At Step Two of the five-step
analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Green has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease, right carpal tunnel syndrome, mood disorder, chronic
The parties have consented in writing to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, and an anxiety disorder (post-traumatic stress
After finding that Mr. Green’s impairments did not meet or equal a listed
impairment (Tr. at 24), the ALJ determined that Mr. Green had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with limitations. (Tr. at 26) He could only
occasionally reach overhead bilaterally; he could only occasionally climb stairs or ramps,
and only occasionally balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl. He could not climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he should avoid exposure to pulmonary irritants, such as
dust, odors, or fumes; and he must avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and moving
mechanical parts. In addition, he was limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and
only simple work-related decisions; contact with others should be incidental to the work
performed, and the supervision should be simple, direct, and concrete; he would need a
cane to ambulate; and he would need to alternate after standing for an hour to sitting for
45 minutes. Id.
The ALJ found that Mr. Green was unable to perform his past relevant work. (Tr.
at 31) At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”) to
find, based on Mr. Green’s age, education, work experience and RFC, that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform. (Tr. at 32) Based on
that determination, the ALJ held that Mr. Green was not disabled. Id.
The Court’s role is to determine whether the Commissioner’s findings are
supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000).
“Substantial evidence” in this context means,“enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the ALJ’s decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir.
2009). The Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner’s
decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse
the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite
decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Johnson v. Chater,
87 F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)).
Arguments on Appeal
Mr. Green argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ’s RFC determination did not fully incorporate limitations stemming
from carpal tunnel syndrome and PTSD.
A claimant’s RFC represents the most he can do despite the combined effects of
all of his credible limitations and must be based on all credible evidence. McCoy v.
Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 614 (8th Cir. 2011). In determining a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ
must establish, by competent medical evidence, the physical and mental activities that the
claimant can perform in a work setting, considering all impairments. Ostronski v. Chater,
94 F.3d 413, 418 (8th Cir. 1996).
As for carpal tunnel syndrome, Mr. Green first complained of right wrist pain on
October 11, 2013. (Tr. at 1408-1414) On April 1, 2015, Dr. Mandeep Malhotra diagnosed
carpal tunnel syndrome and right median neuropathy. (Tr. at 1499-1507) Even so, Dr.
Malhotra noted that those conditions did not affect Mr. Green’s ability to work. (Tr. at
1505) A lack of physician-imposed restrictions may serve as a reason to discredit a
claimant’s credibility. Hensley v. Barnhart, 352 F.3d 353, 357 (8th Cir. 2003). Dr.
Malhotra wrote that the effects from Mr. Green’s carpal tunnel syndrome were minimal.
(Tr. at 1507)
A social worker, Kenyetta McIntosh, saw Mr. Green on July 22, 2015, and noted
that he did not have any physical disabilities that precluded him from performing
activities of daily living. (Tr. at 1480-1481) In fact, Mr. Green testified that he cooked for
himself, did his own laundry, and mowed his yard. (Tr. at 58-59) He also cared for his
children after school. (Tr. at 59) Such daily activities undermine his claims of disability.
Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 487 (8th Cir. 1995); Edwards v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d
964, 967 (8th Cir. 2003).
On February 5, 2016, Dr. Baker Stewart, M.D., diagnosed Mr. Green with mild
right carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. at 1596-1602) Objective tests that show mild to
moderate conditions do not support a finding of disability. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363
F.3d 731, 738-39 (8th Cir. 2004). Dr. Stewart wrote that there was no evidence of
disability or functional deficits in Mr. Green’s upper extremities, including in his right
Two state-agency medical consultants reviewed the medical records, and both
assigned a light RFC with postural limitations. (Tr. at 80, 98) The ALJ considered the
evidence as a whole, including minimal treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, and
assigned Mr. Green an RFC with even more functional restrictions than those provided
by the state doctors. Considering the mild objective findings, conservative treatment, and
ability to engage in activities of daily living, the RFC assigned by the ALJ fully
incorporated Mr. Green’s limitations from carpal tunnel syndrome.
As for PTSD, Mr. Green had a 70% service-connected disability with 30% for
PTSD as of October of 2013. (Tr. at 1423-1427) A PTSD screen was positive on October
11, 2013. (Tr. at 1413) On October 23, 2013, Mr. Green reported that his psychiatric
medications were working well. (Tr. at 1406) Impairments that are controllable or
amenable to treatment do not support a finding of total disability. Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204
F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2000).
His next record of mental health treatment was a visit on March 20, 2015 to Mai
Snow, a clinical social worker. (Tr. at 1507-1508) At that visit, he reported that his PTSD
was worse, but Ms. Snow opined that Mr. Green was focused more on getting benefits
than on his symptoms. Notably, Mr. Green declined therapy. Id. The failure to seek
regular and continuing treatment contradicts allegations of disability. See Gwathney v.
Chater, 104 F.3d 1043, 1045 (8th Cir. 1997). Ms. Snow recalled that when she saw him
in 2013, he did not want to work and was focused on increasing his benefits. Id.
On April 1, 2015, Mr. Green saw Dr. Sheryl Ebert, Ph.D., for PTSD symptoms.
She saw no unusual behaviors and noted that Mr. Green had goal-directed and logical
thoughts. (Tr. at 1498) She also noted that, while Mr. Green met the criteria for PTSD, he
was able to continue working full-time and had not had treatment for PTSD. (Tr. at 1495)
Working while experiencing symptoms alleged to be disabling undermines credibility.
Gowell v Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 798 (8th Cir. 2001). Mr. Green again endorsed a desire to
be found 100% disabled. (Tr. at 1498)
Mr. Green attended therapy for PTSD in 2015 and 2016, but on October 7, 2015,
he appeared to be in no significant psychological distress, and again discussed a need for
benefits. (Tr. at 1448-1449). Mr. Green expressed only minor psychological concerns. Id.
On February 5, 2016, Mr. Green saw Dr. Randolph Potts, a psychologist, and reported
feeling increasing anger and emotional detachment. (Tr. at 1587-1596) Mr. Green said
that he had been laid off from his Dish Network job following a “scandal” at work. (Tr. at
1589-1590) Ceasing work for reasons other than alleged disability undermines a
claimant’s claim that her impairments are disabling. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 793
(8th Cir. 2005). Mr. Green again emphasized his desire to receive benefits.
The Court finds Mr. Green’s repeated statements of a desire to stop working and
receive benefits to be informative and reflective of possible malingering. The disability
benefit program serves those with proven disabling impairments rather than financial
assistance for those simply seeking a reprieve from work.
Mr. Green did not require intensive mental health counseling or inpatient
psychiatric care, and he was able to continue to engage in activities of daily living. His
conservative care does not reflect a disabling mental condition. The mental portion of the
RFC, which limited Mr. Green to unskilled work, fully incorporated his limitations.
There is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner=s decision to deny
benefits. The RFC fully incorporated all of Mr. Green’s limitations. The finding that Mr.
Green was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, therefore, must be,
and hereby is affirmed. The case is dismissed, with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 11th day of January, 2018.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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