Garrett v. Social Security Administration
ORDER affirming the decision of the Commissioner. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 1/9/13. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
DONALD PATRICK GARRETT
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
This case is about what medical records and doctor's opinions a
claimant needs to succeed on a disability application.
Donald Garrett worked as a musician from 1969 until October of 2008.
He applied for Social Security Disability benefits in April 2009 claiming
disabling depression. Garrett contests the application's alleged onset date of
31 December 2005, stating that "he had trouble comprehending what [the
agent] was saying" during his intake interview. He claims he was diagnosed
as early as 2000. He also disputes his past earnings, which were reported as
$400 per week. Garrett appears to suffer from depression and says he is at the
beginning of a dementia process. He believes that these conditions interfered
with his ability to present his case.
Garrett argues the ALJ erred in not giving controlling weight to his
treating physician's opinion about his past diagnosis. Dr. Stinnett began
treating Garrett in 2007. Dr. Hogan, who treated Garrett during 2000-2006,
referred him to Dr. Stinnett after moving to a position in which he treated
only adolescents. Garrett says Dr. Stinnett can vouch for his treatment history
with Dr. Hogan, including an earlier diagnosis of disabling depression.
Garrett submitted a February 2011 letter from Stinnett into evidence. This
letter offered Dr. Stinnett's retrospective opinion on Garrett's condition prior
to 31 December 2005. But this report lists only diagnoses and subjective
statements. Dr. Stinnett's opinion about Garrett's pre-treatment condition,
although he was a later treating physician, does not meet Garrett's burden of
proof. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); 20 C.P.R.§ 404.1528(a); Social Security Ruling 88-3c;
Brown v. Shalala, 15 F.3d 97,99-100 (8th Cir. 1994); Marolfv. Sullivan, 981 F.2d
976, 978 (8th Cir. 1992).
The Court of Appeals has noted that while the ALJ should consider
retrospective opinions, they have u not gone so far as to require that the
Commissioner give such opinions controlling weight when they are not
supported by diagnostic testing." Robson v. Astrue, 526 F.3d 389,393 (8th Cir.
2008). The undated correspondence from Dr. Stinnett states that, while he has
no records from Dr. Hogan's office, he urecalls" that Dr. Hogan had been
treating Garrett for essentially the "same condition" since approximately
2000. Dr. Stinnett's recollection and opinion of a conversation with Dr. Hogan
is not objective medical evidence that an ALJ may rely upon in making the
A social security medical examiner reported a conversation with Dr.
Stinnett in 2010. The notes from the examiner's report indicate that Dr.
Stinnett had only seen Garrett since 2007 and thus could not support a finding
of disability in 2005. During the hearing before the ALJ, Garrett's attorney
stated that he wanted to get records from Dr. Hogan to substantiate Garrett's
claims of disability as early as 2000. The ALJ left the record open. But Garrett
did not submit any new documentation, despite the ALJ' s offer to issue any
When the Court reviews the decision of the ALJ, "[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is
"less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find
it adequate to support the decision." Boettcher v. As true, 652 F .3d 860, 863 (8th
Cir. 2011). This Court considers all the evidence, butitwillnotreverse simply
because the evidence could also support a contrary conclusion.
Garrett's failure to substantiate his earlier diagnosis with objective medical
evidence undermines his claim that the ALJ erred in giving Dr. Stinnett's
letter less than controlling weight.
The Court also defers to the ALJ's credibility determinations, "so long
as such determinations are supported by good reasons and substantial
evidence." Vester v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 886, 889 (8th Cir. 2005). Even if this
Court finds evidence supporting two inconsistent positions, if "one of those
positions represents the ALJ's findings, [then] the [C]ourt must affirm the
ALJ's decision." Partee v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 860,863 (8th Cir. 2011). Dr. Hogan
was Garrett's treating physician during the relevant period. Without Dr.
Hogan's records, or an opinion from Dr. Stinnett that includes objective
medical evidence about Garrett's condition in 2000, the ALJ' s credibility
findings are determinative.
The Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
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