Rogers v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. The case is dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 4/16/2018. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 3:17-CV-00070-JTK
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Plaintiff, Michelle Rogers, applied for disability benefits on July 24, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of June 30, 2009. (Tr. at 15). That application was denied at the initial and
reconsideration levels. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge denied
Rogers’s claim. (Tr. at 26). The Appeals Council denied Rogers’s request for review. (Tr. at 1).
The ALJ’s decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Rogers has
requested judicial review.
For the reasons stated below, the Court1 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.
The Commissioner=s Decision:
The ALJ found that Rogers had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date of June 30, 2009. (Tr. at 17). At Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, the ALJ
found that Rogers has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, obesity, status post left
leg injury, major depression, and anxiety. Id.
At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Rogers=s impairments did not meet or equal a listed
impairment. (Tr. at 18). Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that Rogers had the
The parties have consented in writing to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
residual functional capacity (ARFC@) to perform the full range of work at the light level, except
that: (1) she cannot frequently bend, crouch, or climb; (2) she can only perform work where
interpersonal contact is incidental to the work performed, the complexity of tasks is learned and
performed by rote, involves few variables, requires little independent judgment, and the
supervision required is simple, direct, and concrete; (3) and she cannot deal with the general public.
(Tr. at 21)
The ALJ next determined that Rogers had no past relevant work. (Tr. at 24). Relying upon
the testimony of a Vocational Expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that, based on Rogers's age, education,
work experience and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that she can perform, specifically stamper and cleaner/polisher. (Tr. at 25). Therefore, the ALJ
found that Rogers was not disabled. (Tr. at 26).
Standard of Review
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). ASubstantial evidence@
in this context means less than a preponderance but more than a scintilla. Slusser v. Astrue, 557
F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009). In other words, it is Aenough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the ALJ=s decision.@ Id. (citation omitted). 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, Amerely 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)).
Rogers=s Arguments on Appeal
Rogers contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ=s decision to deny
benefits. She argues that the ALJ failed to fully develop the record and that the RFC for light work
exceeded her physical capabilities. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ=s decision.
First, it is clear that Rogers has dealt with some mental health problems for some time. She
reported auditory hallucinations and panic attacks in September 2008 during a five-day inpatient
stay at Mid-South Health Systems. (Tr. at 844-845). Discharge diagnosis was chronic PTSD and
anxiety disorder. Id.
Rogers was admitted to St. Bernard’s Hospital for attempted suicide on September 5, 2008.
(Tr. at 520-534, 640-648). She was placed on suicide precautions. Id. She was discharged three
days later with prescriptions for Clonazepam, Effexor, Trazadone, and Abilify. Id. She was urged
to follow up with mental health treatment. There is no record that she did so, and on September
28, 2009, Rogers was admitted to Pemiscot Memorial Hospital for major depressive disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder, poly-substance dependence, narcotic dependence, and essential
hypertension. (Tr. at 373-395). Klonopin was added to her medications at discharge on October 6,
Rogers was admitted for a three-day stay at Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center on
October 17, 2009. (Tr. at 413-430). Her mental diagnosis was major depressive disorder. Id.
Rogers treated several times in 2011 at Mid-South for mental health conditions and medication
maintenance. (Tr. at 767-778). Ken Pruett, APN, stated that she met the criteria for being seriously
mentally ill. (Tr. at 777-778). Her diagnoses were major depressive disorder, anxiety, and panic
disorder. (Tr. at 771-774).
On August 2, 2011, Kenneth B. Jones, Ph.D., conducted a mental diagnostic evaluation of
Rogers. (Tr. at 460-468). He did not have medical information from the Administration at his
disposal. Id. He noted it would have been helpful to have paperwork regarding her diagnostic
process. (Tr. at 460). Dr. Jones noted that Rogers had not seen a counselor in the past year. Id. She
treated her condition with medication. Id. The need for only conservative treatment contradicts
allegations of disabling pain. Smith v. Shalala, 987 F.2d 1371, 1374 (8th Cir. 1993). Dr. Jones
found stable mood, appropriate affect, unremarkable speech, goal directed thought process, and no
intrusive thoughts or hallucinations. (Tr. at 461). Rogers reported that she was able to work quickly
and efficiently, and Dr. Jones remarked that her actual symptom severity was less than reported.
(Tr. at 464). He diagnosed Rogers with mood disorder and found no limitations in adaptive
Rogers again saw Ken Pruett several times for medication management from January to
July 2012. (Tr. at 781-794). He managed her psychiatric medications, and reiterated his previous
On August 24, 2012, Rogers underwent a state-agency psychological evaluation by Beth
Meyer-Bulley, Psy.D. (Tr. at 483-488). Affect was anxious, but speech, thought-content, and
thought-process was normal. (Tr. at 485). Rogers denied suicidal ideations and denied problems
doing household chores. (Tr. at 486). Dr. Meyer-Bulley found that Rogers could sustain a
reasonable degree of cognitive efficiency, and found adequate attention, memory, persistence, and
pace. (Tr. at 487). Dr. Meyer-Bulley performed a second evaluation on November 15, 2013 and
her conclusions were nearly identical to her first report. (Tr. at 550-555).
Rogers saw Mr. Pruett again in January 2013, reporting improved sleep. (Tr. at 801-802).
She had cordial demeanor, logical thought process, and clear speech. Id. She had fair insight and
judgment and was oriented times three. Id. Mr. Pruett suggested she return in three months. Id.
Rogers saw Mr. Pruett again for medication management a handful of times in 2013 and 2014,
observing in January 2014 that she had no significant depression or anxiety symptoms. (Tr. at 809825).
On September 17, 2014, Rogers attempted suicide by cutting her wrists. (Tr. at 557-577).
She was cooperative, attentive, and coherent, with appropriate mood. (Tr. at 566). She signed a
no-harm agreement and was discharged. Id. She saw Mr. Pruett again in October 2014 and January
2015 for medication management. (Tr. at 836-838, 840-842). He encouraged her to see a therapist.
Id. On March 31, 2015, Rogers reported to Pruett that her medications were working, but she had
occasional anxiety and panic. (Tr. at 1030-1033). She reported good sleep and good energy level,
and she had no delusions or perceptual disturbances. Id.
On September 2, 2015, Rogers attempted suicide again, and was admitted to Delta Medical
Center. (Tr. at 959-964). She was depressed with a flat affect, but her thought process was within
normal limits. (Tr. at 963). At discharge she was encouraged to seek counseling. (Tr. at 965). The
record does not reflect regular treatment with a psychiatrist or mental health counseling; rather, it
appears that Rogers only followed up with Mr. Pruett, APN, for medication management.
Rogers argues that the ALJ should have further developed the record regarding her mental
health diagnoses. An ALJ does have a basic duty to develop a reasonably complete record. Clark
v. Shalala, 28 F.3d 828, 830-831 (8th Cir. 1994). However, it is well-settled that a claimant has
the burden of proving her disability; the ALJ does not have to play counsel for the Plaintiff. Id.
The ALJ is required to recontact a treating or consulting physician or order further testing only if
the medical records presented do not provide sufficient evidence to make a decision on disability.
Martise v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 926-7 (8th Cir. 2011). Absent unfairness or prejudice, reversal
for failure to develop the record is not warranted. Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th Cir.
Rogers incorrectly states that the ALJ did not discuss the opinions of Drs. Jones or MeyerBulley. (Doc. No. 13 at 22). In fact, at page 19 of the ALJ’s opinion, he discussed both Dr. Jones’
report and Dr. Meyer-Bulley’s report. (Tr. at 19). He also detailed Rogers’s treatment with Ken
Pruett, who reflected that he could not make a determination about Rogers’s ability to do workrelated tasks. (Tr. at 20). And the ALJ considered the opinions of two state-agency psychological
consultants, who opined that Rogers could do unskilled work. (Tr. at 89, 132).
The opinions of the psychological evaluators are consistent with Rogers’s history: limited
mental health counseling, minimal treatment by a psychiatrist, positive response to medication,
and typically normal mental status exams (mood, speech, attention, thought-process, etc. within
normal limits). While she did attempt suicide on two occasions, she was discharged in stable
condition. She also admitted that she could perform some household chores. With opinions from
four mental health professionals and treatment notes from Mr. Pruett, the record contained
adequate evidence for the ALJ’s review. He based his RFC for unskilled work on a fully developed
record, and he did not err in that regard.
Rogers also argues that the RFC for light work exceeded her functional abilities. In August
2011, Dr. Michelle Shelton conducted a physical consultative examination, noting a past left leg
reconstruction surgery. (Tr. at 470-476). Rogers could not walk on her heels and toes or arise from
a squatting position due to leg pain, but she had normal range of motion in her extremities, normal
gait and coordination, and negative straight-leg raises bilaterally. (Tr. at 474). Dr. Shelton assigned
moderate limitations to walking and standing. (Tr. at 475).
On May 15, 2013, Rogers treated for a possible heart attack, attributed to uncontrolled
hypertension. (Tr. at 490-491). She admitted that she was non-compliant with her hypertension
and diabetes medications. Id. Failure to follow prescribed treatment may be used to discredit
subjective allegations. Brown v. Heckler, 767 F.2d 451, 452 (8th Cir. 1985). Rogers was
encouraged to exercise. (Tr. at 491). A physician’s recommendation to exercise suggests that
claimant has an increased functional capacity. See Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 522 (8th Cir.
From June through November 2013, Rogers was treated four times at East Arkansas Family
Health Care Center for hypertension, diabetes, and diabetic neuropathy. (Tr. at 536-549). Her
extremities showed no clubbing or edema, and Rogers said she was walking an hour daily, which
does not indicate she had disabling leg pain. (Tr. at 536). She was prescribed Lisinopril,
Metformin, and Lyrica. (Tr. at 537-538).
Rogers reported to Northeast Arkansas Clinic on November 19, 2014 with shooting pain
in her legs. (Tr. at 849-855). She had a normal range of motion with no tenderness in her
extremities. (Tr. at 849). Her gait was normal. (Tr. at 850). Normal examination findings are not
indicative of disabling pain. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001).
Over the next two years, Rogers saw doctors for neuropathy and back pain. (Tr. at 850861, 1044-1049, 1052-1057, 1058-1068). She was treated conservatively with medications, and
urged to follow a strict diabetic diet. Id.
An RFC for light work contemplates alternating sitting, walking, and standing, and Rogers
has not shown that this profile is beyond her capabilities. She did not pursue pain management,
injections, physical therapy, or other aggressive treatments. State-agency medical consultants
reviewed the record and suggested and RFC for light work (Tr. at 86, 112), and the ALJ gave those
opinions great weight because they correlated with the mild clinical findings and conservative
treatment. Complaints of pain must be supported by objective evidence: subjective complaints
“may be discounted if there are inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole, and the ALJ may
properly rely upon discrepancies between [a claimant’s] allegations of pain and her treatment
history, medicinal selections, and daily activities in disregarding her subjective complaints.”
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 968 (8th Cir. 2011). Indeed, Rogers had no problem with personal
care and admitted to Dr. Meyer-Bulley that she could perform household chores. (Tr. at 263-265,
486). Such daily activities undermine her 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). The ALJ properly
considered the entire record in assigning the RFC for light work. The RFC did not exceed Rogers’s
There is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner=s decision to deny benefits.
The record was fully developed and the RFC did not exceed Roger’s functional capacity. The
finding that Rogers 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 16th day of April, 2018.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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