Jones v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Judgment will be entered for the Defendant. Signed by Magistrate Judge Jerome T. Kearney on 7/14/2021. (jak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
CASE NO. 3:20-CV-00193-JTK
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Plaintiff, Jerri Jones (“Jones”), applied for disability insurance benefits on June 2, 2017,
alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2012. (Tr. at 15). The claim was denied initially
and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denied Jones’s application. (Tr. at 23). The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. at
1). The ALJ=s decision now stands as the final decision of the Commissioner, and Jones 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 Jones had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period
beginning on September 1, 2012 and ending on December 31, 2013 (the date last insured). (Tr. at
17). The ALJ found, at Step Two of the sequential five-step analysis, that Jones had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, status post C3 and C5 fusion,
history of breast cancer in remission status post double mastectomy, peptic ulcer disease,
medullary sponge kidney with kidney stones, and obesity. Id.
After finding that Jones’s impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at
The parties have consented in writing to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge.
18), the ALJ determined that Jones had the RFC to perform work at the sedentary exertional level,
except that she could only occasionally reach overhead bilaterally and only occasionally perform
gross and fine manipulation with the right hand. Id.
The ALJ found that Jones was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. at 21).
Relying upon VE testimony, the ALJ found that, based on Jones’s age, education, work experience
and RFC, jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr.
at 22-23). Therefore, the ALJ found that Jones was not disabled. Id.
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)).
B. Jones=s Arguments on Appeal
Jones contends that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ=s decision to deny
benefits. She argues that the ALJ did not give proper consideration to the opinion of treating
physician Travis Richardson, M.D., and that he did not properly analyze Jones’s subjective
complaints. For the following reasons, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ=s
On January 28, 2017, the Administration promulgated new regulations governing how
ALJs assess medical opinion evidence. The new rules, with an effective date of March 27, 2017,
focus on whether an opinion is persuasive, based on: (1) supportability; (2) consistency with the
evidence; (3) relationship with the claimant [which includes; (i) length of treatment relationship;
(ii) frequency of examinations; (iii) purpose of the treatment relationship; (iv) extent of the
treatment relationship; and (v) examining relationship]; (4) provider specialization; and (5) any
other important factors. See 20 C.F.R. § 404, 1520c(a)-(c)(2017). An opinion is more persuasive
if it is consistent with and supported by the medical evidence as a whole. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920c(c)(1-2) (2017). See Phillips v. Saul, No 1:19-CV-00034-BD, at *4 (E.D. Ark. June 24,
2020). An ALJ must give good reasons for his findings about an opinion’s persuasiveness. Id.
Among other things, Jones suffered from back and neck pain, which she treated
conservatively with medications, injections, and physical therapy. Ultimately, after failing
conservative treatment, Dr. Richardson performed a cervical decompression fusion on October 24,
2017. (Tr. at 1489-1505). November 1, 2017, Jones reported she was feeling well. (Tr. at 13391340). While Jones was having some pain, Dr. Richardson wrote, on November 10, 2017, that she
was doing well after surgery. (Tr. at 1415-1476). He did say that she may need to have future
surgeries if conservative care did not solve her problems.
While the relevant time-period ended on December 31, 2017, later records showed a stable
fusion; and by March 2018, Jones’s neck pain was minor and she was encouraged to start a home
exercise program. (Tr. at 431, 1397-1399). Dr. Richardson had advised Jones that she may
experience neck pain for her entire life, but he tried conservative injections and medication
management. (1688-1691). In December 2018, after Jones reported increased pain in her neck, Dr.
Richardson performed a second surgery. (Tr. at 1769-1772). Thereafter, Jones said that her pain
was minimal and Dr. Richardson continued her on Percocet. (Tr. at 1821-1823). On January 14,
2019, Jones said she was doing well. (Tr. at 1817-1821). In March 2019, Dr. Richardson noted
that Jones’s pain was controlled and he continued conservative care. (Tr. at 1793-1797).
Dr. Richardson filled out a medical opinion form on November 29, 2017, about a month
after Jones’s first surgery. (Tr. at 1393-1395). In the short checkbox form, he said that she would
not be capable of even sedentary work and would miss more than three days of work per month.
Id. He said side effects from medication made Jones feel drowsy and sedated. Id.
The ALJ wrote that this opinion was only somewhat persuasive, because the opinion was
written only a month after Jones’s surgery, records showed improvement over time, and some of
Jones’s symptoms of pain resolved. (Tr. at 21). The ALJ said that “the record is not fully consistent
with and does not fully support [Dr. Richardson’s] opinion.” Id. This analysis clears the bar for
evaluation of medical opinions. An ALJ need not cite exhaustively to reasons for how he assessed
Elsewhere in the opinion, the ALJ discussed objective imaging results, the nature of Jones’s
pain, and the opinions of the two Disability Determination Services medical experts, who found
that Jones’s physical impairments translated to an RFC for light work. (Tr. at 20, 102-104, 127128). The ALJ explained that those opinions were only somewhat persuasive and so, he reduced
the RFC down to sedentary; this indicates he gave credit to Jones’s subjective complaints. (Tr. at
18-20). It should also be noted that short conclusory checkbox opinions, like Dr. Richardson’s,
may properly be discounted, if they are conclusory or unsupported by relevant medical evidence.
See Thomas v. Berryhill, 881 F.3d 672, 675-676 (8th Cir. 2018). The ALJ did not err with respect
to Dr. Richardson’s opinion.2
Jones contends that the ALJ’s discussion of her subjective complaints was incomplete, and
therefore, she urges reversal. When evaluating a claimant's subjective complaints of pain, the ALJ
must consider objective medical evidence, the claimant's work history, and other evidence relating
to (1) the claimant's daily activities; (2) the duration, frequency, and intensity of the pain; (3)
precipitating and aggravating factors; (4) the dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication;
and (5) the claimant's functional restrictions. See Schwandt v. Berryhill, 926 F.3d 1004, 1012 (8th
Cir. 2019). The ALJ need not explicitly discuss each factor, or mention the seminal case of Polaski
v. Heckler, 739 F.22d 1320 (8th Cir. 1984). A district court should defer to the ALJ’s judgment
even if the ALJ did not elaborate fully on all of the factors. Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 791
(8th Cir. 2005); Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 558 (8th Cir. 2011).
In this case, the ALJ discussed, albeit briefly, the extent and nature of Jones’s pain, he
mentioned her problems doing daily activities, and he cited to improvement with treatment. (Tr.
at 18-20). He wrote about objective imaging results, clinic notes, and doctors’ opinions. Id. And
he limited Jones to the lowest exertional level of work, with additional reaching and manipulative
limitations. (Tr. at 18). The opinion as a whole reflects that the ALJ fully considered Jones’s
Jones had to show she was disabled prior to December 31, 2017, her date last insured. The ALJ fully
considered the relevant evidence before that date, and also properly noted improvement in her condition
subsequent to the date last insured. If Jones thinks she was disabled after December 31, 2017, she may
file another application.
There is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner=s decision to deny benefits.
The ALJ properly considered Dr. Richardson’s opinion and Jones’s subjective complaints. The
finding that Jones was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, therefore, must
be, and hereby is AFFIRMED. Judgment will be entered for the Defendant.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 14th day of July, 2021.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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